What does the idiom "Spill the beans" mean?

The expression Spill the beans 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 Spill the beans idiom.

Meaning of "Spill the beans"

Meaning

The phrase “spill the beans” is an idiomatic expression which means to reveal a secret. It is usually used to urge someone to divulge information that they are not supposed to share with others. It implies that in revealing the secret, the person is letting out the secret “beans” from a hidden container.

Etymology

The expression “spill the beans” has its origins in Ancient Greece. In the 5th century BC, the Ancient Greeks used beans as a part of their voting system. During the voting process, each voter was presented with several colored beans and he or she was supposed to vote by placing the beans into an urn. If a voter wanted to change their vote, they had to “spill the beans” by withdrawing one of the beans from the urn, thus revealing their choice to the other voters.

It is not clear when the phrase first started being used in its current sense to mean “revealing a secret”. The earliest known record of it being used in this way can be found in the 1832 novel “The Irish Heiress” by Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson). In the book, a character refers to a gossiping woman as a “spiller of beans”.

Usage

The phrase “spill the beans” is used to urge someone to reveal a secret or piece of information that they are not supposed to share with others. It is often used as a way of pressuring someone to tell the truth, such as in the following example:

“Come on, tell us what happened. We know you know, so just spill the beans!”

It can also be used as a way of asking someone to reveal something in a joking manner, or to make fun of someone who is behaving in a secretive or suspicious way. For example:

“What are you hiding, huh? Spill the beans!”

Example Sentences

  • Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Just spill the beans and I promise I’ll keep it to myself.

The meanings of the words in the "Spill the beans" idiom

Idioms with similar meaning

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.

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