For a ruse or trick to be discovered; to be caught.
When a person sees straight through a ruse that’s trying to be pulled on them, they might say the phrase “the jig is up,” which means they’ve figured it out.
Example: Alex wanted to play a joke own his brother. The brother liked to eat cereal in the morning, so Alex replaced some of the sugar with salt. Later, his brother poured himself a bowl of cereal and it tasted terrible. So he said: “Alright, Alex, the jig is up. This is the second time that you’ve replaced the sugar with salt. Can you stop? I’ve wasted enough cereal as it is!”
In other words, the moment he tasted salt in his cereal, he figured out the ruse being pulled on him.
The Origin Of ‘The Jig Is Up’
Today, one of the definitions for the word “jig” is to dance. But apparently, this phrase’s origins comes from a time where the word “jig” was slang for a trick. 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), where 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.
That era is where the phrase is believed to derive its meaning from.
Two examples can be seen below. One will use the idiom, the other will use a synonym. They both have similar meanings.
- Harold’s friend tried to trick him by saying cheesecake was made with mozzarella cheese. Harold was skeptical about that, so he looked up a recipe online and learned that this was false. Thus, the jig was up.
- My niece and I were playing with toys. One of the toys was named Ralph. While she went to grab a cup of water, I hid Ralph behind me. When she got back, she asked where he was. “He got angry and ran out of the room,” I told her. She didn’t believe me, but I insisted. She then noticed that Ralph was sitting in back of me, so I was caught red-handed.
Note: The origins for most idioms and sayings cannot be said with a certainty. What’s provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated, but not necessarily so.
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means confirms that the phrase originates from said newspapers, poems, or books. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying and is from an older time.