‘Let the Cat Out of The Bag’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Shanea Patterson, updated on April 4, 2023

Has someone told you they ‘let the cat out of the bag’? Are you unsure of what this means? No worries. Below, we’ll go over the definition and origin, plus provide examples of how to use the phrase in a sentence correctly.

In short:

  • ‘Let the cat out of the bag’ means to reveal a secret.

Essentially, it means that you’ve told someone information that you weren’t supposed to tell.

What Does ‘Let the Cat Out of the Bag’ Mean?

‘Let the cat out of the bag’ is a common English idiom that means to tell a secret or reveal information you’ve been keeping to yourself. This phrase is often used when you’ve told someone’s secret or a secret of your own.

For example:

  • If your best friend tells you that she’s thinking about leaving her husband and tells you not to tell, but then you turn around and tell your other friend, you’ve let the cat out of the bag (told her secret).

In season 2, episode 13 of The Office, when Kelly asks Jim why he didn’t tell her he had a crush on Pam, Jim’s response to the camera is:

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. I used to have a crush on Pam and now I…don’t. Riveting.’

He’s saying the secret’s out and that he can’t hide the fact that he likes Pam anymore.

Where Does ‘Let the Cat Out of the Bag’ Come From? 

Some sources say that the phrase ‘let the cat out of the bag’ comes from the Middle Ages when people would go to purchase a pig, and the vendor would sneak a cat into the bag instead, which was cheaper than a pig.

The buyer wouldn’t find out they had a cat instead of a pig until they got home and literally let the cat out of the bag. Once they did that, they realized they’d been scammed.

However, other sources say that this would have been impossible because of the difference in weight between a cat and a pig.

The phrase has been known to allude to a deceitful purchase in the Dutch and German versions of the phrase, which translates to:

To buy a cat in a bag.

Another theory states that the ‘cat’ refers to a whip made from nine intertwined cords that were used as a form of punishment by the British Royal Navy and in prisons. It was called a cat because the marks left by it resembled the scratches you might get from a cat.

  • The phrase later came to be known to mean to reveal a secret.

Examples of ‘Let the Cat Out of the Bag’ in Sentences

How would you use ‘let the cat out of the bag’ in a sentence?

Let’s see some examples:

  • I told my sister that I cheated on my husband, and she let the cat out of the bag. As of now, my husband’s leaving me and trying to fight for custody of the kids, and I have nowhere to go.
  • You’re not going to let the cat out of the bag before the surprise party, are you? You know you’re terrible at keeping secrets, so maybe you should stay away from everyone until the party starts.
  • When I had a party when my parents went out of town, my little brother let the cat out of the bag, and now I’m in big trouble. I can’t believe he blabbed like that. I thought he was cool. I let him hang out at the party and everything.
  • I let the cat out of the bag when my boss’ wife asked me if he’d been getting too close to the receptionist. I couldn’t help it! I hate lying, especially to pissed-off women.
  • I was going to surprise my grandma for her birthday and take her out to eat, but my auntie accidentally let the cat out of the bag. Next time, I won’t be telling her about any surprise parties.
  • When I got accepted into Harvard, I was trying to surprise my mom in person by wearing Harvard gear when I arrived. But when I got there, I found out that my little sister had already let the cat out of the bag.
  • I’m so grateful you didn’t let the cat out of the bag about my promotion. I don’t want everyone to be mad that I haven’t been here that long but got promoted over them.
  • Once she let the cat out of the bag, everything went downhill from there. They both have a long way to go to heal their wounds, but I’m sure they’ll be okay.

Other Ways to Say ‘Let the Cat Out of the Bag’

What other words and phrases convey the same meaning as ‘let the cat out of the bag’?

Let’s see some examples: 

  • Reveal something
  • Tell the truth
  • Let on (about)
  • Bare
  • Disclose
  • Squeal
  • Divulge
  • Bring to light
  • Blab
  • Blow the gaff
  • Spill the beans
  • Talk
  • Babble
  • Tattle
  • Leak
  • Tell
  • Confess
  • Give away
  • Make public
  • Come clean
  • Make known
  • Snitch
  • Tell all
  • Sing
  • Give the game away
  • Betray
  • Let slip
  • Unveil
  • Blurt out
  • Spill your guts
  • Lift the lid
  • Dish
  • Fess up
  • Impart
  • Bring into the open
  • Own up
  • Get off your chest

Final Advice on ‘Let the Cat Out of the Bag’ 

To recap, we learned the following:

  • ‘Let the cat out of the bag’ means to reveal a secret.

Remember, it means that you’ve told someone information that you weren’t supposed to tell.

If you ever get stuck on usage or meaning, feel free to come back here and review what you learned. We’ve got a whole content library on idioms that you might find useful as you’re learning this complex language. Go check it out anytime.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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