“Stop beating around the bush and get to the point already!” is a commonly heard phrase. But why would talking around a subject be like beating around a bush of all things? What is the origin of beat around the bush?
When would a bush ever need to be beaten?
Perhaps if you want to see if there’s something in there but don’t want to go right in with both hands.
Why would you not want to go directly into a bush to find out what’s inside? It may be because:
a.) It might be dangerous. e.g. if there is a creature in there that may harm you if you go in blindly
b.) If it’s a creature you want to grab, going right in might scare it off, preventing you from catching it
In fact, etymologists believe that the origin of beat around the bush is related to both these points.
Historical Origin of Beat around the Bush
It is thought that the phrase to “beat around the bush” arose from a hunting practice in the 1400s or 1500s. It’s first use is thought to be in a text called ‘Generydes – a romance in seven-line stanzas’, published around 1440.
When hunting for birds, hunters would take hired “beaters” with them whose job was to beat around bushes containing birds, to cause the game and birds to fly out of hiding so that they could be hunted with greater ease.
This is akin to beating around the bush linguistically where you may be avoiding the core issue and trying to flush out of hiding a person’s true feelings.
In the case of boar hunting, it was dangerous to go right into a bush where boars were lying in wait with their viscious pointed tusks gleaming menacingly. It was far safer to beat around the bush, scaring the boars out of their position and into the clear view of the hunters.
To this day, when we “beat around the bush” when we speak, much like the fear of the boar’s pointed tusks in the bush, we often fear the viscious response we may receive if we say things directly.
See other articles in the etymology section including:
- Jet Black: Why do we say something is “jet black”?
- Limelight: Why do we say someone is “in the limelight”?
- Love (tennis): Why do I say “love” instead of “zero” in tennis?
- OK: Why do I say “OK”? What does OK stand for?
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Great post, truly!
Another great post, congratulations!