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Don't beat about the bush

Posted by ESC on October 13, 2000

In Reply to: Don't beat about the bush posted by Oxhead on October 12, 2000

: : I am 9 years old and have been given some homework to find what the meaning of Don't beat about the bush means I also need to know its origin as well Thank you for your help

: : Daniel D.

: To "beat around the bush" is to skirt the main subject. For instance, if you want to tell your dad that you broke the garage window with a baseball, but you start off by telling him that your homer won the ball game, you are beating around the bush. You're avoiding the main point, which is that the window is broken.

: It sounds like you need a definitive answer to your question and the best I can do is to offer my surmise. It sounds like this phrase has a hunting origin. In the Middle Ages nobles would employ serfs as "beaters" to flush game out of wooded areas, copses, or "the bush." I suppose if someone only beat around the bush and didn't head in to the woods to scare the beast out, he could be accused of stalling.

BEAT AROUND THE BUSH - ".It was once the custom to hire beaters to beat bushes and arouse game birds for the hunter to shoot at. So the beater stirred up the action, but the hunter got to the point." From the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

Another source has a slightly different explanation. ".these beaters had to take great care when approaching the bush or they would 'start' the game too soon for the hunter to get a good shot. But etymologist Ernest Weekley and others believe that the expression, which dates back to at least the early 16th century, is a mixed metaphor. Weekley suggests that the old proverb 'I will not beat the bush that another may have the bird' joined with 'to around the bush,' an early expression used for a hound hesitating when circling the bush - and gave us 'beat around the bush." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)