Note: Sometimes, the origins for phrases are uncertain. In such cases, I'll try to instead list some of the theories floating around for how or where the saying may have come from.
Additionally, while I do attempt to find the oldest quotes I can of a phrase being used, keep in mind that it is entirely possible for older recordings to exist that I am just completely unaware of. If you find an earlier citation than what I have, feel free to let me know via email.
knowyourphrase.com - Sayings and Phrases - Meanings and Origins
Meaning: To 'beat around the bush' is to avoid the main point in a conversation; failing to get to the bottom line when speaking to others.
When someone takes a long time to get to the core of what they're trying say, people might use idioms like this to describe what the person is doing.
The origin of this phrase is believed to be from hunting. According to Idiomation, back in medieval times, hunters would hire men to assist them while hunting. These hired men would help by flushing animals out from within the brush by whacking the bushes with a wooden stick, perhaps even adding in some loud shouting as well. 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 was a certain degree of danger that came from hitting the bushes. While the more harmless creatures would be driven out—birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.—the more dangerous ones, such as wild boars, might also be lurking inside. Equipped with sharp tusks, boars have the potential to cause serious harm to humans. Thus, for their own safety, perhaps the 'beaters' of the brush would strike the area around the bushes, rather than hitting them directly.
Anyways, the earliest this phrase can be found in writing, from what I've seen, is from a book or poem called Generydes: a Romance in Seven-Line Stanzas, around the year 1440, and there's a line that reads:
"Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take."
An alternative way to say this saying is 'beating about the bush.' An early recording of this phrase with the word 'about' in it comes from a poem written by George Gascoigne, 1572:
"To thinke bowe he abused was, alas my heart it bleedes:
He bet about the bushe, whiles other caught the birds …"
* 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!
What is the Meaning of the Idiom 'Beating Around the Bush'?