When someone beats around the bush they are often avoiding talking about something directly. The idiom is used when one person wants to tell another to stop avoiding the true point of a conversation. In USA Today, the person quoted in this excerpt uses the expression to say he wants to get directly to his main point:
“Listen, there’s no beating around the bush — I’m old,” Miller cracked. “You can say it. … The guys in the locker room, the best way you can lead and be a part of it is by doing it with action, by not missing practice and getting through it when it’s tough. I can definitely help.”
The origin of this phrase is believed to be from hunting. In medieval era hunters would hire men to assist them during hunting. These hired men would help by flushing animals out from within the bushes, which they would do by whacking the brush with a wooden stick, and often shouting. The point was to make a bunch of noise in order to scare birds and other animals out from the cover of the bushes, making them easier targets for the hunters.
There would be a certain degree of danger that came from hitting bushes. While the more harmless creatures—birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.—would be driven out, the more dangerous ones, such as wild boars, could also be lurking inside. Boars have sharp tusks that have the potential to cause serious harm to humans. Thus, to avoid injury from any harmful animals, it’s possible that these ‘beaters’ of the brush would strike the area around the bushes, instead of getting too close and hitting them directly. This is similar to how the idiom is used today—it refers to a person who talks about something, but instead of getting directly to the point, they speak around it.
The earliest written use of a variation of this phrase was around the year 1400, when it was used in an anonymous poem called Generydes: A Romance in Seven Line Stanzas:
Butt as it hatfi be sayde full long 1 agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take,
So next time you’re beating around a bush remember that just flat out saying the truth is likely less scary than possibly being injured by a wild boar, so just suck it up and stop beating around the bush!