To “beat around the bush” means to refrain from getting to the point. It’s commonly paired with another idiom, “cut to the chase.”
Example: “Are you just going to beat around the bush or are you going to cut to the chase and answer my question?”
Where did it come from?
This phrase comes literally from the hunting practice. Men were hired to beat the bushes to flush birds or boars so that they could be “cut to the chase” and netted or shot, eliminating the element of surprise for the hunters. This was particularly advantageous with the case of wild boar, because to meet one by surprise head-on with its sharp tusks was dangerous. Modern day grouse hunters still use the practice of beating the ground.
The first literary mention of this idiom was in 1440, existing anonymously as the handwritten mediaeval poem, now in the care of Trinity College at Cambridge: in the mediaeval poem Generydes – A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas, circa 1440:
Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.
This is very possibly one of the oldest non-biblical idioms still used today.