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Beating around the bush meaning and origin

Beating around the bush

Beating around the bush is another fascinating English idiom that comes from a long time ago. Below you will find the meanings, usage examples, origin, history, and synonyms of this wonderful expression.

A person beating around the bush is not getting to the point and is talking in circles without saying what needs to be said. It is said as beat around the bush in North America while in the UK it beat about the bush is often used.

Beating around the bush meanings include –

To waste time or stall.

To talk about something unrelated before saying what needs to be said.

To intentionally avoid talking about a topic at hand and what is important.

To not be straightforward in what you say.

To approach something in an indirect fashion.

To be purposely vague.

Example sentences using beating around the bush


John talks for ages before telling you what you need to know, he really beats around the bush!

I wish she would stop beating around the bush and just tell me what she really wants.

Stop beating around the bush and do what needs to be done already.

He was so embarrassed about what happened that he beat around the bush and didn’t really talk about it.

I don’t have much time so please don’t beat around the bush.

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Beating around the bush origin

This is a very old expression that originates from medieval times or the Middle Ages long before guns were invented. It comes from hunting and capturing birds and sometime boar. Similar words appear in the writing of a romantic poem from the 14th century titled Generides. It is unsure whether this was first composed in Middle England or in France.

On a hunt, a separate group of men were detached from the main hunters. Their purpose was to beat bushes and branches with sticks to make noise and flush out the game that they were pursuing. Once birds were startled by the bush beaters they were more easily caught in nets by the hunting team that lay in wait.

For boar hunting, beating the bushes served two purposes. Firstly, the noise and disturbance among the bushes caused the beasts to come out in the open where they could be speared or shot with arrows. Secondly, it helped protect the hunters from being caught unaware of any charging animals when they were not ready.

There is also the 14th-century proverb “One beats the bush, another takes the bird”. This means that one person does all the work while another takes the rewards. This is easily understood once we know the history of bush beating and hunting. One person does the hard labor of stirring the quarry while the other gets to take a shot at the prize animal.

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Modern bush beating

Paid beaters still exist today, particularly in the sport of grouse hunting. When a hunting season is on it can be a good source of income for some rural people where often there isn’t much employment.

These crews trudge many miles across difficult terrain to make loud noises and still use sticks to rouse the birds into the path of hunters. Beaters work as a team that keeps a constant pace usually set by a leader.

Sometimes dogs are also used in this modern version. Often beaters are assigned the task of picking up and carrying any game that has been shot down. These hunts typically take place in the early morning and mid to late afternoon.

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Idioms with similar meanings

These expressions have similar meanings and can often be substituted for beat around the bush as they are synonyms.

Cut to the chase.

Get to the point.

Get on with it.

Cut to the heart of the matter.

Dance around the topic.

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