Beat around the bush

Oversized bush, trimmed into a globe shape
A large green bush

If someone beats around the bush, they do not talk about a subject in an open or direct way. Instead, they may talk about a lot of irrelevant or unimportant details to avoid getting to the main point. People usually beat around the bush, either consciously or subconsciously, when they are trying to avoid a subject that is sensitive, controversial, or uncomfortable. As a result, the person may approach the topic cautiously by discussing it in a vague or roundabout way.

When someone beats around the bush, it takes them a long time to get to the most important part of the discussion, if they even get to it at all. Beating around the bush could also be used strategically to stall for time or avoid answering a difficult question, a tactic that is often seen in politics.

This phrase is common in both casual and business settings, and it is appropriate to use with friends, family, and peers. It is often used to tell someone to speak more efficiently. For example:

  • What's the issue? Stop beating around the bush and just tell me the truth so that I can try and help you!
  • Skilled politicians often beat around the bush when faced with difficult questions on controversial topics, especially when they're on live television.

A. I only have 5 minutes left before I have to leave this meeting, so if you don't mind, let's stop beating around the bush and get to the point.
B. Ok, sorry. It's really difficult for me to say this but I've decided to accept a job at another company. 

Did you know?  This expression dates back to the 1500s and refers to the process of hunting birds. British gamekeepers would hire people to beat the edges of a bush so that the birds would get scared and fly into the air where they could be shot directly. In this context, the verb "beat" means "to hit (something) repeatedly."