Good morning, Weinerworkers. It’s time for one of my favorite etymologies.

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that the phrase “to beat around the bush,” has an old (and sadly non-pornographic) origin. It all starts with a little game called batfowling.

What you have to appreciate about the term “batfowling” is that it explains very succinctly exactly what goes on. Specifically, you find some fowl, and you bat them. Presumably, you bat the shit out of them, but theshitoutofbatfowling sounds too much like German to be an English term. The usual way this would work is as follows: You get a lantern, a net, and a bat (I’m told something like a big paddle). You go out at night and find a shrub in which fowl are sleeping. You scare the living balls out of said birds, causing them to rush out of the shrub, instinctively toward the light.

One might assume the birds believe they are about to enter Heaven. This is true, but not for the reason they suppose.

In all fairness to the Medieval Englishman, I understand sometimes you would simply trap the birds in a net, rather than spend your evening playing the most horrifying form of baseball imaginable. I’ll leave aside the question of whether batting a bird or trapping a dozen angry confused birds in a single net is more humane.

Now, here’s the cute part: As mentioned, you have to scare the birds out of the bush. Making this difficult, the average medieval Englishman was about 5’6″ and, well, an Englishman. Plus, you want to maintain a little distance from the birds when they come zooming out in terror.

So, one way they would scare birds was to take the bat and to literally “beat around the bush.” That is, you would smack the bat into the dirt around the bush or at the periphery of the bush in order to make noise. That is, you would attack around the target, with the eventual goal of reaching it. Just as I do when I tell my wife “hey… so… I’m gonna be sitting in the bedroom naked for the next half hour… if you know… maybe that interests you.”

And that is why, to this day, we say “to beat around the bush.”



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4 Responses to Batfowling

  1. Zoe says:

    …they still do that, you know. It’s the preferred way to shoot grouse:

  2. Benjamin B says:

    My instinct would have been to call it “fowlbatting” instead of “batfowling”. “Batfowling” just sounds like performing fowl acts on bats.

    • kitukwfyer says:

      That’s what I thought at first, too, but it sort of makes sense. If people were saying things like “let’s go bat fowl,” it’s pretty easy to see how the phrase “bat fowl” could transform into the regular verb “batfowl.” Keep in mind that the phrase probably would have been used mostly by woodsmen and the like. Professional classes of any sort tend to invent their own jargons. I have no evidence, but that’s what makes sense to me. :)

  3. xeno says:

    …does the naked sitting work? Because you just potentially opened a major door for me.

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