Beat Around the Bush

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.Medium_loup
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!

Sources: [X] [X] [X]

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

The English language can be confusing.  Certainly, many of our idioms have fallen behind the times.  Hold the phones – What phones?  Don’t have a cow! – Surely, I’ll pass.  Where did these phrases come from and why have they stuck around despite their falling out with modern technology and culture?

On my morning walk I heard someone mention that they had “heard it straight from the horse’s mouth”.  Well, unless his horse is Mr. Ed, it seems quite unlikely that the man and his horse had a chat over breakfast and coffee.  Who’s to say the horse’s information would even be slightly reliable; or more reliable than say, hearing something straight from a person’s mouth?

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The phrase “straight from the horse’s mouth” has become an idiom.  An idiom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.  What meaning do we deduct from this word cluster?

We take the phrase “straight from the horse’s mouth” to mean getting information from an authoritative or credible source.  It might seemingly indicate that horses know best, however the phrase has an unexpected origin.

One possible origin comes from buying and selling horses back before the invention of the automobile.  As a means of labor and transportation, horses were very valuable in American civilization.  When buying a horse it was very important to obtain information about the animal’s health history and extenuating attributes, similarly to the way someone today would want to know the details about a car for purchase.  Apparently an excellent way to gage a horse’s age is by looking at its teeth, literally getting the facts straight from the horse’s mouth despite seller chicanery.  In one of my personal favorites, ‘Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye discloses to a man that the allegedly six year old horse he was sold actually turned out to be twelve.  “It was twelve!  It was tweeeelve!” he shouts during the iconic opening scenes as the town sings of “traditions, traditions“!

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Another possible origin relates to horse racing.  When betting on a horse, gamblers would put their money behind someone “in the know” who possessed that golden tidbit of information.  How’d they bet on the winning horse?  Why, they heard it straight from the horse’s mouth!  The people who you’d imagine have the best conjectures about which horse might win are the trainers and stable boys.  So, to say that it was heard straight from the horse’s mouth humorously suggests that someone is a step ahead of even the inner circle of stable boys, hearing it from the horse himself.

Though you’d never guess that’s where a phrase we use all the time and understand the meaning of comes from, it seems to have stuck through the decades.  Though most of us don’t go around checking horses’ mouths to see if they’re a good purchase or spend our Sunday afternoons at the race track, you can be sure to trust it if you heard it from the horse’s mouth!