What Does Spill the Beans Mean?

Spill the Beans Meaning

Definition: To reveal a secret, usually accidentally.

Origin of Spill the Beans

This expression originated around the early 1900s, with its first record use in 1919.

It is made up of two earlier meanings of spill and beans. In the 16th century, to spill meant to talk; to divulge, and in the 13th century, beans meant information. Of course, as we mentioned above, the full phrase spill the beans is much newer.

Examples of Spill the Beans

meaning of spill the beansIn this dialogue, a brother and sister are discussing a secret that the sister doesn’t want the brother to tell the parents.

Maria: Hey, Franco. I know you overheard me on the phone earlier talking about my new boyfriend.

Franco: Oh?

Maria: I don’t mind that you were eavesdropping, but I need to ask you not to tell Mom or Dad about this guy.

Franco: Why not? He sounded nice!

Maria: I’m just not ready to hear all their judgmental comments about him. I hate answering all their questions. I just want to enjoy my new relationship.

Franco: Okay. I promise I won’t spill the beans. I’ll keep your secret.

spill beans meaningThe second example shows two university students leaving the classroom after the lecture finished.

Lorenzo: Can I trust you?

Alba: Sure. About what?

Lorenzo: Well, I want to tell you something, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else.

Alba: That shouldn’t be too hard. After all, I don’t know anyone else in the class.

Lorenzo: The professor of this class is actually my cousin.

Alba: What? I had no idea!

Lorenzo: Yeah, and he warned me that we’re going to have a surprise quiz next week. He told me not to tell anyone, but I’m terrible at keeping secrets. I had to spill the beans to someone, and I’d feel terrible if I didn’t give you a warning.

Alba: Well, thank you! I appreciate it!

More Examples

The excerpt below is about a famous person and a secret she tried to reveal but couldn’t.

  • As might be expected, Ephron’s good friend leaves things out, such as how she figured out that Mark Felt was Deep Throat, the Watergate source whose identity her ex and Bob Woodward were keeping secret. By her own account, she did all she could to spill the beans, to no avail. Felt was finally outed by his family in 2005. –USA Today

This excerpt talks about a secret bet between athletes.

  • “There was a little wager that happened,” Decker said. “I don’t know if I want to be the one to spill the beans. But you’ve got to ask him how it came about and why it’s shaved today and not next week.” –USA Today

Summary

The American English expression spill the beans is another way to say divulge private information.