Beat about the bush

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Beat about the bush : Phrases


To prevaricate and avoid coming to the point.


The figurative meaning we have for this phrase has evolved from the earlier meaning, which was more literal. In bird hunting some participants roused the birds by beating the bushes while others caught them in nets. So, 'beating about the bush' was the preamble to the actual capture. Of course, grouse hunting and other forms of hunt still use beaters today.

The phrase is old and first appears in 'Generydes - a romance in seven-line stanzas', circa 1440:

"Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take."

Even at that early date the implication that 'beating about the bush' was thought a rather peripheral activity is clear. Of course, the fact that the USA has had two presidents called Bush in recent years has given journalists the opportunity to give the phrase a new lease of life.

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