The phrase spill the beans means to make private or secret information known to others. In other words, if you ask someone to ‘spill’ the details, you are asking them to reveal certain information that they’re keeping under wraps.
Example: Mark wanted to keep the gift he bought for his son a surprise until a later date. However, after a few days went by, he spilled the beans and gave it to him. (In other words, Mark revealed the secret about the gift he purchased.)
The Origin of ‘Spill The Beans’
What is the origin of the phrase ‘spill the beans’? This expression might come from ancient Greece and here is why:
A long time ago in ancient Greece, they apparently had a voting system that involved beans being placed into jars. Two different colored beans used in this process—white beans which meant yes, and black beans which meant no. During the voting process, the amount of “votes” each jar had was to remain a secret until the end. Well, what would happen if one of those jars was accidentally knocked over? The beans would spill out, thus revealing the amount of votes. In other words, the information that was to be kept a secret would become known, and that is similar to what this phrase means today. So maybe this is where the expression ‘spill the beans’ comes from.
However, with that said, this expression doesn’t look that old. The earliest I could find it in print with its figurative 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 during your trip. 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!