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)
Spill The Beans – Origin
Spilling the beans refers to someone who makes private information known, but why? For that matter, why are beans being spilled in the first place? Well, this phrase may come from ancient Greece. Let’s learn why that is.
Back then, they had a system for voting that involved beans being placed in jars. Two different colored beans were used for this process—white beans meant yes, while black ones meant no. From what I understand, the votes were supposed to be kept unanimous. I guess nobody was to know how many “votes” each jar had until the end. Now, If the jars were carelessly knocked over and the beans spilled out (which probably happened by accident at least once), then the secret contents of each jar would then become known. Hence, this is where the phrase ‘spill the beans’ may have got its start.
However, it’s also possible that the idiom did not have come from ancient Greece because it doesn’t seem to be 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.
Tip: Know Your Phrase has the meaning and origin for tons of expressions. If you liked reading about this one, it’s actually listed on our food phrases page, so there are plenty more food related idioms to check out. In addition, you can use the menu at the top to find hundreds of other sayings. So what’re you waiting for? Get exploring!