beat around the bush

“Beat around the bush” has four related meanings:

– To discuss a subject without getting to the main point

– To avoid discussing something difficult or embarrassing

– To speak in a roundabout, indirect or misleading way

– To attempt to hide the truth

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997), “beat the bushes for” is the original idiom, and alluded to hunting. In bird hunts, some of the participants roused the birds by beating the bushes and enabling others to catch the quarry in nets or, in later years, to kill them using guns. So “beating around the bush” was the preamble to the main event, which was the capturing of the birds. Grouse hunting and other forms of hunt still use beaters today.

A modern example: “I’ve been beating the bushes for a substitute but haven’t had any luck.”

The phrase is old and first appears in the medieval poem Generydes – A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas, circa 1440:

“Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,

Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.”

Even at that early date the author’s implication was clearly that “beting the bussh” was considered a poor substitute for getting on with it and “taking the byrdes.” Another early version is in George Gascoigne’s Works, 1572:

“He bet about the bush, whyles other caught the birds.”

Perhaps all this is the source of “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

  One thought on “beat around the bush

  1. how9473
    March 28, 2021 at 8:42 am

    I am still giggling over your last sentence!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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