Did someone get mad at you because you ‘spilled the beans’ and you don’t know what it means? In this article, we’ll talk a look at the meaning, origin, example sentences, and more.
If someone ‘spilled the beans,’ it means that they revealed information that was supposed to be a secret.
The verb ‘spilled’ doesn’t have to be used in the past tense– in fact, the most common version of the phrase is ‘spill the beans.’ If you wanted to warn your mother not to tell your friend about the surprise party, you could say:
“Please don’t ‘spill the beans’!”
There are a few different theories about where the phrase ‘spilled the beans’ comes from, but the most common points back thousands of years to the origin of this idiom.
This theory dates all the way back to ancient Greece, when beans were used as a tool to hold an anonymous vote.
The notion was that these votes were cast in secret. However, if someone were to knock the jar over (either on purpose or by accident), they would have revealed how the people had voted before it was supposed to be known.
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'spilled the beans' and ‘spill the beans’ didn’t appear in publications until the early 20th century.
The earliest use of this phrase can be found in the United States, with the phrase having a similar meaning to ‘upset the applecart’ or ‘spoil the beans.’
In The Stevens Point Journal from 1908, we find one of the earliest examples of the phrase:
"Tawney, when he came to Congress, wasn't welcomed within the big tent. He had to wait around on the outside. Then the blacksmith [Jim Tawney] got busy. He just walked off the reservation, taking enough insurgent Republicans with him to spill the beans for the big five."
In The Van Wert Daily Bulletin from the fall of 1911, we find the idiom used with the meaning of “disrupting a situation that was previously stable by talking out of turn.”
"Finally Secretary Fisher, of the President's cabinet, who had just returned from a trip to Alaska, was called by Governor Stubbs to the front, and proceeded, as one writer says, to 'spill the beans'."
A 1922 record from the New York Court of Appeals also uses the phrase:
“On the 28th of June, Mr. Nieman came down to Granville and brought an attorney with him, as I understand it, Mr. Hicks told me he was an attorney, and I guess Mr. Cole was of the same impression, and Mr. Nieman told Cole, he says, “Now, Cole, if you go on with these affidavits, and if you try to collect any money up there,” he says, “I am going to spill the beans,” and Cold says, “Go ahead if you want to spill the beans; you are in the same boat as I am; you are not a bit better than I am,” he says, “you will come right on the boat with me.”
The testimony continues on to include another usage of the phrase:
“And that was the conversation that happened at that time. Now, when he came down there to spill the beans he must have had some to spill.”
How would 'spilled the beans' be used in a sentence?
Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'spilled the beans'?
Here are some options:
‘Spilled the beans’ is a fun idiom that means someone revealed information that was supposed to be kept secret indefinitely or until a certain period of time has passed. Though it’s unclear whether it really dates back to the ancient Greek voting method of putting beans in jars, it is certain that this well-known idiom has been in use since at least the early 20th century.
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