SPILL THE BEANS
Meaning: To divulge a secret, especially to do so inadvertently or maliciously.
Origin: The derivation of this expression is sometimes said to be a voting system used in ancient Greece. The story goes that white beans indicated positive votes and black beans negative. Votes had to be unanimous, so if the collector 'spilled the beans' before the vote was complete and a black bean was seen, the vote was halted.
That's plausible, but doesn't account for the fact that the phrase is first found in the early 20th century. It's probably best if we concentrate our search there and ignore ancient Greece.
'Spill' has been used as a verb with the meaning of 'divulge' or 'let out' since at least the 16th century
That 'let out' meaning was probably influenced by an earlier meaning of 'spill', i.e. 'kill' and the subsequent usage 'spill blood', which was in common use by the 14th century.
The earliest uses of 'spill the beans' come from the USA. The meaning of the phrase was then something like 'spoil the beans' or 'upset the applecart', which harks back to the supposed Greek knocking over of a bean container. The first example I can find is from The Stevens Point Journal, June 1908.
We have 'spill', meaning 'divulge', but why beans? Well, it could have been almost anything. In fact, there are several 'spill the' variants - 'spill the soup', 'spill your guts', or simply, just 'spill'.
Farm Sayings Friday is weekly feature of Yield Starts Here. You might think your grandparents made it up, but that old saying likely goes back many years. In this feature we will figure out who said it first and what it really means! Do you have a well used saying in your family, send to us and we'll feature it in a future blog.
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