What Does Let the Cat out of the Bag Mean?

Let the Cat Out of the Bag Meaning

Definition: To accidentally reveal a secret.

This idiom is used when one or more people learn new information that was meant to stay hidden or unknown. It is often used when someone shares the secret information verbally, but it can also be used when the information is discovered in other ways.

Origin of Let the Cat Out of the Bag

The origin of this saying is disputed, but the most common explanation is that it came from a trick that was used in the past in English market places.

Apparently, at an earlier time in history, baby pigs were often sold at market. The seller would give the buyer the piglet in a bag. As a trick to save money, the seller would sometimes stick a cat in the bag rather than a piglet. The buyer might not realize he had been cheated until the cat came out of the bag, and the trick was revealed.

Example of Let the Cat Out of the Bag

the cat is out of the bagToday, this phrase is most commonly used after a secret becomes known, and there’s no reason to hide it any more.

Here is an example conversation between family members, in which the child has been hiding a failing grade in his mathematics class.

Father: Hi, son. How was school today?

Son: Great! I’m getting really good grades in all my classes.

Mother: Really? Even in your math class?

Son: Yep! Especially in my math class.

Father: Son, your teacher called us today and told us you’re failing the math class. She let the cat out of the bag. There’s no reason to lie any more.

Son: I’m sorry. I was just embarrassed and didn’t want to tell you.

More Examples

  • Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark let the cat out of the bag Thursday morning at the groundbreaking of the renovation of Nassau Coliseum, saying there would be a “major announcement” about professional basketball coming to the Coliseum in the future. –New York Post
  • When you ask Amazon, they will simply reply “no comment” to the rumors that they’re planning to open 300 to 400 brick-and-mortar bookstores. But is that because it’s not true or because the company isn’t ready to let the cat out of the bag? When it opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle, the process was kept very, very quiet. –LA Times

Pronunciation in American English

the cats out of the bagThis idiom is generally heard in conversations rather than seen in writing. Therefore, it’s important to realize how it is commonly pronounced.

The two words “out of” often get blended together in speech. Once blended, this part of the phrase sounds like “outta.” The whole phrase together sounds like, “He let the cat outta the bag.”

Also, if you don’t know who told the secret, you can simply say, “The cat’s outta the bag.”

Summary

The idiom let the cat out of the bag is a great phrase to use when you want to let someone know that previously secret information is no longer a secret.