Last week while having lunch with a friend, I could tell he was trying to ask me something but simply couldn’t spit it out.
So I said, “Stop beating around the bush. What do you need?”
Then he told me. It was no big deal.
“Stop beating around the bush,” I thought. Where did that come from?
I didn’t have a clue. Do you? So I checked it out.
BEATING AROUND THE BUSH
The idiom “beating around the bush” dates back to the 15th century, when hunters on horseback would hire scouts on foot to accompany them.
The scouts’ job was using a stick to “beat around the bushes” on the side of the trial in a way that would scare animals out of hiding.
By bending over and beating around the bottom of the bushes instead of on top of the bushes, the scouts avoided potentially perilous situations… like wild boar with sharp tusks jumping out and goring them in the stomach.
Today, that idiom has come to mean “avoiding the main topic,” just like those scouts avoided being gored by a boar by beating around the bushes.
JUMPING ON THE BANDWAGON
Then having lunch with another friend, I told him the story behind beating around the bush.
My friend said, “I can do you one better… do you know where the phrase ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ comes from?”
“I would only be grasping at straws,” I chuckled. How he knew this I have no clue!
It turns out Dan Rice was a talented entertainer in the 1800s who became wildly popular for his clown performances in the circus. Rice was dubbed by historians as “the most famous man you never heard of.”
After his career in the circus Rice ran for President, being the first politician to use bandwagons at political rallies. A bandwagon was just that… a wagon that carried a band during a parade or circus.
Using bandwagons at his political rallies gained Rice so much attention that other politicians quickly followed suit and “jumped on the bandwagon.” By 1900, bandwagons were a standard in political campaigning.
UNDER THE WEATHER
Those two lunches got me all whipped up about the origin of idioms. So I checked out a few more.
Being “under the weather” was a common expression used by sailors on the high seas. If a sailor was feeling sick, he went below deck to be “under” the harsh weather.
CAT OUT OF THE BAG
How about “letting the cat out of the bag?” This idiom originated in the 1800s when merchants sold live piglets and put them in a sack for customers to take home. Devious merchants would switch the pig for a cat when the customer looked away, only to be revealed after the long journey home when the customer was shocked after letting the cat out of the bag. That’s why it has become known for revealing a secret.
OVER THE TOP
Frankly, I think the “cat out of the bag” backstory is a bit of a stretch, over the top. If I hadn’t checked it out personally, I’d presume it was a wives tale.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
This article took longer than expected to pencil. So I’ve got to wrap it up.
I’m late for dinner, but better late than never. As a newlywed, I hate to be late, and want to make that rarer than a hen’s tooth.
BITING THE BULLET
Teresa knew I was a workaholic when she married me, so I hope she’ll be okay having to occasionally bite the bullet.
LOST IN TIME
Maybe while waiting for me she’ll get lost in time and won’t realize I’m late. So I’ll be cool as a cucumber when I walk in the door.
PIECE OF CAKE
If Teresa doesn’t say something by dessert time, I’ll know my play it cool strategy worked like a piece of cake.
This article has 29 idioms. Don’t lose your train of thought and you won’t be at a loss, scratching your head to find them.
– Greg Hague
(I wrote a short L4X eBook anyone can download free at LFourX.com)