Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

The Curious Origin and Meaning of “Cat Out of the Bag” in English

cat out of the bag

The English language is full of colorful idioms and phrases that add flavor and depth to our everyday conversations. One such phrase is “cat out of the bag,” which is often used to describe a secret or surprise being revealed. But have you ever stopped to wonder where this phrase came from and what it truly means? In this article, we will explore the curious origin and meaning of “cat out of the bag” in English.

The Literal Meaning of “Cat Out of the Bag”

Before we dive into the history and figurative meaning of this phrase, let’s first understand its literal meaning. The phrase “cat out of the bag” refers to the act of revealing something that was meant to be kept hidden or secret. This could be a surprise, a secret plan, or any other information that was not meant to be shared.

For example, imagine a group of friends planning a surprise birthday party for one of their friends. One of the friends accidentally lets it slip and reveals the surprise to the birthday person. In this scenario, we could say that the “cat is out of the bag” because the surprise has been revealed.

The Origin of “Cat Out of the Bag”

The origin of this phrase can be traced back to the 18th century in England. During this time, farmers would often bring their pigs to market in bags made of cloth. However, some dishonest farmers would try to cheat their customers by putting a cat in the bag instead of a pig. The cat would remain quiet and still until the bag was opened, revealing the truth and exposing the farmer’s deceit.

Another theory suggests that the phrase originated from the practice of sailors selling cats to other ships. Cats were believed to bring good luck on a ship, and sailors would often keep them as pets. However, when a sailor sold a cat to another ship, they would often keep it in a bag to prevent it from escaping. If the cat managed to escape, the buyer would realize they had been tricked and the “cat would be out of the bag.”

The Figurative Meaning of “Cat Out of the Bag”

Over time, the phrase “cat out of the bag” evolved to have a figurative meaning. It is now used to describe any situation where a secret or surprise is revealed, often unintentionally. This could be in a personal or professional setting, and the phrase is used to convey a sense of shock or surprise at the revelation.

For example, imagine a company is planning to launch a new product, and they want to keep it a secret until the official launch date. However, a competitor somehow gets their hands on the product and reveals it to the public. In this scenario, we could say that the “cat is out of the bag” because the surprise has been ruined.

Examples of “Cat Out of the Bag” in Literature and Pop Culture

The phrase “cat out of the bag” has been used in various forms of literature and pop culture, further solidifying its place in the English language. Here are a few examples:

  • In the novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, the character Tom Sawyer reveals to his friends that he knows who the murderer is, saying “I know who done it!” and “I’ll tell if you swear to keep it a secret.” When his friends agree, he reveals the murderer’s identity, and they exclaim, “Oh, Tom, you didn’t! You didn’t!” to which Tom replies, “Yes, I did ‘pon my word. I wish I may die if I didn’t. Cat’s out of the bag now!”
  • In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” the character of the Wizard says, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” to try and keep his true identity a secret. However, when Toto pulls back the curtain, revealing the Wizard’s true form, the phrase “cat out of the bag” could be used to describe the situation.
  • In the song “I’m Not the Only One” by Sam Smith, the lyrics say, “You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *