Typically used to describe someone who is avoiding the main point in a conversation; failing to get to the bottom line of something.
When someone is taking too long to get to the core of what they're trying say, people use phrases and idioms like this to indicate as much as possible.
This phrase is believed to have come from hunting. Back in medieval times, hunters would hire men who would assist them in the hunt by flushing out animals from within the brush. This could be done by whacking the bushes with a stick, perhaps even accompanying the whacking with some loud shouting; the point was to make a lot of noise in order to scare birds and other animals out from the cover of the bushes, making them easier targets for the hunter.
Hitting the bushes directly probably wasn't always the best approach to take. While harmless animals, like birds, rabbits, or squirrels, might emerge from the bush, the more dangerous animals should also be considered for safety reasons. You never know, for instance, if a wild boar is going to charge out after being startled and cause injuries with its sharp tusks. Hence, at times, perhaps these 'beaters' of the bush, when trying to be on the cautious side, would literally beat around the bush instead of hitting them directly. This would be comparable to how people, at times, do not directly get to the point of what they are saying, but instead talk around it. So perhaps that last part about the beaters hitting around the bushes is where the phrase derives its figurative meaning, or perhaps not. In any case, this expression is still believed to have its roots somewhere in hunting, along the lines of what has been mentioned above.
EXAMPLES OF USE
* When I asked Alex who ate the chocolate chip cookies I had laying on my desk, all he did was beat around the bush and refused to give me a direct answer.
* Stop wasting my time, either quit beating around the bush and tell me what your complaint is or get back to work
Check your understanding of the words in BOLD, ITALIC and BLUE.
The Let's Talk Lingo team!