The jig is up is a common phrase that means a ruse or trick has been discovered; to be caught.
Example: Alex wanted to play a joke on his brother by replacing the salt with sugar. While he was in the middle of carrying out this dastardly ruse, his brother walked in and caught him red-handed. Thus, the brother said: “Stop right there, Alex. The jig is up.” (In other words, Alex’s trick was discovered.)
Synonyms / Related: caught red-handed
The Origin Of ‘The Jig Is Up’
Today, one of the definitions for the word “jig” is to dance. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say the phrase “gettin’ jiggy with it.” But this definition is not relevant to the origin of the phrase “the jig is up.” So let’s focus on the time when the word “jig” was slang for a trick.
Yes, according to the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson, it states that this expression was used during Elizabethan times (mid-to-late 16th century). During these times, the word “jig” became slang for a practical joke or trick. Thus, if “the jig was up,” it meant your trick was found out, or exposed.
It’s believed that this era is where the modern phrase derives its meaning.
Tip: If you want to find more common sayings starting with “J” then check out our list.
Here are two examples. The first will use the idiom, while the second will use a related phrase.
- Harold’s friend tried tricking him by saying cheesecake was made with mozzarella cheese. Harold was skeptical, so he looked up a recipe online and learned that this was false. Thus, the jig was up.
- My niece was playing with a doll named Ralph. When she left the room, I hid him behind my back. When she returned, I told her: “Ralph got angry and ran out of the room!” She didn’t believe me because she saw his legs sticking out behind me, so I was caught red-handed.
Note: The origin of some sayings cannot be said with a certainty. In such cases, what will be provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated, but not necessarily so.
In addition, the quotes you see that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago. These quotes do not mean the phrase originated from that very source. These are merely the earliest known use of the phrase being used and thus they can give you an idea on how old it is. That’s all.