The idiom “beat around the bush” is used to describe someone who is avoiding the main topic or not speaking directly about an issue. It suggests evasion or indirectness.
We often use this idiom when someone is hesitant to get to the point or is trying to avoid discussing a sensitive or uncomfortable topic.
For instance, if someone is trying to avoid giving a direct answer to a question, they might be accused of “beating around the bush.”
Beat Around the Bush Idiom Origins
The term has its origins in medieval hunting practices in the United Kingdom. The earliest known usage was from a 1440s poem by W. Aldis Wright. While the poem is from the 1440s, its earliest written record is from the 1800s book, Generydes, a Romance in Seven-Line Stanzas, where the phrase is shown:
“Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.”
Here’s a brief overview of its origin:
- Medieval Hunting Practices: During bird hunts, particularly for game birds like grouse, the birds would often hide in thick underbrush or bushes to avoid the hunters. Instead of going directly into these bushes to flush out the birds, hunters would employ beaters. These beaters would literally “beat” the bushes with sticks or other implements to rouse the birds, causing them to take flight. Once the birds were in the air, they became easier targets for the hunters.
- Avoiding Direct Action: The act of beating around the bushes was a preliminary action before getting to the main event, which was capturing or shooting the birds. Over time, the phrase began to be used metaphorically to describe any action or speech that avoided the main issue or topic. It came to symbolize a reluctance to address a matter directly.
Today, when someone is said to be “beating around the bush,” it means they are avoiding the main point or not speaking directly about a particular topic.
As you can see from the below chart from Google, the phrase remains extremely well-used today, even becoming more well-used than ever!
Examples in a Sentence
- “Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you really think.”
- “I wish he would just tell me the truth instead of beating around the bush.”
- “She kept beating around the bush when I asked her about the missing money.”
- “If you have bad news, don’t beat around the bush – just tell me.”
- “During the meeting, he beat around the bush instead of addressing the main issue.”
- “I can tell when you’re beating around the bush; just be honest with me.”
- “The politician beat around the bush when asked about the scandal.”
- “Why are you beating around the bush? Did something happen?”
- “He wouldn’t give me a straight answer; he just beat around the bush.”
- “If you have a concern, don’t beat around the bush – bring it up directly.”
- “She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so she beat around the bush.”
- “Instead of beating around the bush, let’s discuss the matter openly.”
- “He always beats around the bush when it comes to discussing finances.”
- “I don’t have time for you to beat around the bush; I need answers now.”
- “She beat around the bush for an hour before revealing the big news.”
1. Hem and haw
Definition: To hesitate to give a definite answer.
In a Sentence: “He continued to hem and haw when asked about his decision.”
2. Talk in circles
Definition: To speak without getting to the main point.
In a Sentence: “She talked in circles without ever addressing the issue.”
3. Dodge the question
Definition: To avoid answering a question directly.
In a Sentence: “Every time I asked him, he would dodge the question.”
4. Skirt around
Definition: To avoid dealing with something.
In a Sentence: “She skirted around the topic of her resignation.”
Definition: To avoid giving a direct answer or taking direct action.
In a Sentence: “He sidestepped the controversial topic during the interview.”
6. Dance around
Definition: To avoid discussing something directly.
In a Sentence: “She danced around the subject, hoping to avoid confrontation.”
Definition: To avoid answering directly.
In a Sentence: “He tried to evade the question by changing the topic.”
8. Duck the issue
Definition: To avoid dealing with a problem or question.
In a Sentence: “The committee ducked the issue by postponing the decision.”
9. Give the runaround
Definition: To avoid giving a clear answer or solution.
In a Sentence: “The customer service representative gave me the runaround.”
10. Sit on the fence
Definition: To avoid making a decision or taking a side.
In a Sentence: “He sat on the fence throughout the entire debate.”
11. Walk a fine line
Definition: To be in a situation where one must be very cautious.
In a Sentence: “She walked a fine line when discussing the company’s financial situation.”
12. Tiptoe around
Definition: To avoid discussing something because it’s sensitive.
In a Sentence: “They tiptoed around the issue of layoffs during the meeting.”
13. Play coy
Definition: To pretend to be shy or modest to avoid giving an answer.
In a Sentence: “She played coy when asked about her plans for the future.”
14. Mince words
Definition: To speak in an indirect or misleading manner.
In a Sentence: “I don’t have time for you to mince words; just tell me the truth.”
15. Be non-committal
Definition: To avoid making a decision or commitment.
In a Sentence: “He was non-committal when asked about his intentions.”