Puzzling English Idioms – Solved

cat sleeping
“hitting the sack!”

by Julianna Speers
December 2, 2021

Beat around the bush:
For ages, we have all heard the phrase, “Don’t beat around the bush,” but what does this really mean? Used in situations where a person either hesitates to tell something or is so elaborate on their point that it isn’t understood, to “beat around the bush” actually goes way back to medieval hunters. Commonly, hunters would hire men to scare forest animals out of the brush and trees so that they were easier targets. While this may be an easy way to get an animal’s attention, you don’t want to be caught red-handed with the stick that just interrupted the momma bear’s nap. Because of this, the men would beat around the bush rather than hit it directly so that they had a better chance of fleeing from dangerous animals. Nowadays, you “beat around the bush” when you would rather talk around your point instead of getting directly to it.

Bite the bullet:
Have you ever been in a situation where you don’t want to do something and someone tells you to “bite the bullet”? What on earth is that supposed to mean and how is it encouraging? For starters, please don’t find a bullet and bite it, and secondly, maybe ask somebody else for encouragement. The origin of advising somebody to “bite the bullet” could be from one of two things. Most commonly, the first one, and the one that I will define, dates back to pre-anesthetic times. When a soldier would undergo a first-aid emergency, biting a bullet would prevent them from screaming, biting their tongue, and would give them something to chew on to distract from the pain. I wouldn’t advise you to do this next time you go and have surgery, but it is a lot like swallowing your fear or annoyance towards something mentally or physically painful.

Hit the sack:
This one is a bit self-explanatory if you think back to the ways that mattresses used to be made in the days before memory foam and cotton. When somebody says, “I’m going to hit the sack,” it means they are going to bed. In old times, somebody looking for a softer way to sleep would find a sack and fill it with straw or hay and then lay it on the ground. They would then, not too comfortably I would add, lay down on the sack and go to sleep. Now, I’m not entirely sure why somebody would hit the sack instead of slowly laying down on it…