The phrase spill the beans means to make private or secret information known to others.
Example: Mark bought his son a gift, but he wanted to keep it a surprise until a later date. However, after a day went by, he spilled the beans early because he was too excited to wait any longer.
In other words, Mark did not want to keep the gift a secret anymore, so he told his son about it.
Synonyms: let the cat out of the bag, blow the whistle on (someone)
The Origin of “Spill The Beans”
Now that we know what the phrase “spill the beans means” (hey, that rhymes), let’s talk about its origin. This expression may come from ancient Greece. Let’s learn why:
Long ago in ancient Greece, they apparently had a system for voting that involved beans being placed into jars. There were two different colored beans used in this process—white beans which meant yes, and black beans which meant no. During the voting process, nobody was to know how many “votes” each jar had until the end. Yes, it was a secret. But what would happen if those jars were accidentally knocked over? The beans would spill out, resulting in the votes becoming known. So this is where the expression ‘spill the beans’ may have got its start.
However, it’s also possible that the idiom did not come from ancient Greece because, by the looks of it, this expression isn’t that old. The earliest I could find it in print with its meaning of “to divulge private or secret information,” is from the early 20th century. For example, in the newspaper Smith’s Weekly, 1919:
“‘Now get a move on and no risks,’ he declared finally as his henchmen, who had been in the right mood to ‘spill the beans,’ moved off quietly and walked nonchalantly past the policeman.”
- Come on, spill the beans already and tell me what happened yesterday. I really want to know!
- Stacy is in a bad mood. If you know why, then let the cat out of the bag and tell me what’s going on.
If you liked reading about this food related phrase, well, there are other appetizing idioms on the menu. Consider checking out our food sayings page for more!