Some words and phrases have somewhat murky origins, evolved as they have over time. To ‘beat about the bush’ (or around the bush, as our friends across the pond say) is not, however, one of them – perhaps slightly ironically, given the meaning of the phrase. There’ll be no beating about the bush to get to the bottom of this one – and as tempting as it is to crack inneudos about bush beating, I’ll try to refrain.
It means not to bother with a preamble, to get right to the point, and it actually originates in hunting. In bird hunts, participants would literally beat the bushes to rouse the birds ready for the hunt – it’s the preamble to the action. Once they’ve beaten the bush, they can cut to the chase, another well-known and well-used phrase that comes from the same thing.
Bird hunts still use bush beaters today but the phrase as we use it is itself extremely old, as one of the first recorded examples of beating about the bush being used in everyday language is from the year 1440. Quite a while ago, that.