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Let the Cat Out of the Bag: Unraveling a Secretive Idiom

Have you ever accidentally blurted out a surprise or let a secret slip that you were supposed to keep? If so, you’ve metaphorically “let the cat out of the bag”! This curious idiom is all about revealing hidden information. Let’s explore its origins and how to use it appropriately.

Meaning: To Spill the Beans

“Let the cat out of the bag” means to disclose a secret, often unintentionally. It suggests that the information, once released, can’t be easily contained, just like a cat escaping from a bag.

Origins: A Questionable Marketplace Practice?

The idiom’s exact origins are a bit murky, but a popular theory involves a rather unpleasant historical scam. In some medieval markets, dishonest traders are said to have substituted piglets for less expensive young cats, selling them in bags to unsuspecting buyers. If the buyer opened the bag, the trick would be revealed – they’d have literally “let the cat out of the bag.”

When to Use It

This idiom is best suited for informal situations and adds a touch of playfulness:

  • Accidental reveals: “Uh-oh, I think I just let the cat out of the bag about your birthday party!”
  • Open secrets: “It was supposed to be hush-hush, but everyone knows about their new project now – the cat’s out of the bag.”

When to Avoid It

There are situations where “let the cat out of the bag” might be too casual or insensitive:

  • Formal communications: Stick to clearer language in business emails or academic essays.
  • Serious matters: If the information is sensitive or could have negative consequences, a more direct approach is better.
  • Unfamiliar audiences: If you’re not sure people understand idioms, be straightforward to avoid confusion.

Let the Word Out

Now you know the scoop on “let the cat out of the bag”! Try using it the next time a secret accidentally slips out, or when a piece of information becomes widely known. Just remember – sometimes it’s better to keep that metaphorical cat securely zipped up in its bag!


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<a href="https://englishpluspodcast.com/author/dannyballanowner/" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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