What does the idiom "let the cat out of the bag" mean?

The expression let the cat out of the bag is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the let the cat out of the bag idiom.

Meaning of "let the cat out of the bag"


The English idiom "let the cat out of the bag" is a phrase used to describe the act of unintentionally revealing a secret or something that was supposed to remain hidden. The phrase implies that the secret or information was kept in a bag, such as a sack or purse, and has been accidentally released. The phrase is also sometimes used to describe a situation where someone deliberately reveals a secret or previously hidden information.


The phrase “let the cat out of the bag” is believed to have originated in England during the 18th century. Originally known as “sell the cat in the bag”, it was originally used to describe a scam in which a buyer would purchase a bag that supposedly contained a cat, but in fact, did not. The phrase was later reversed and transformed to represent the act of revealing a secret. Over time, the phrase has been adapted to fit more modern contexts, often being used to describe situations in which someone has let out a secret or hidden information, either accidentally or intentionally.


The phrase “let the cat out of the bag” is commonly used in both formal and informal English to describe a situation where someone has revealed a secret or hidden information. Generally, the phrase has a negative connotation, as the person revealing the secret has likely broken a trust or caused embarrassment to someone. The phrase is utilized in a variety of contexts, from everyday conversations to professional meetings, to describe a situation where a secret has been revealed.

Example Sentences

  • Oh no, she just let the cat out of the bag about her surprise party!
  • John tried to keep the secret, but he ended up letting the cat out of the bag.
  • I was really hoping to keep this a secret, but now that you've let the cat out of the bag, everyone will know.

The meanings of the words in the "let the cat out of the bag" idiom

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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