What is "spilling the beans"? A proverb? A phrase? ...?

For example, what to put in the blank below?

Truth might be told mistakenly, as indicated by ----- spilling the beans.

Should I use "the phrase", "the proverb" , or ...?

And, is the second part of the sentence "as indicated by ... spilling the beans" idiomatic, or can be said in a better way? Aren't the followings better wordings?

Truth might be told mistakenly, what refereed to as spilling the beans.

Truth might be told mistakenly, hence ..... spilling the beans.

or other suggestions?

  • 1
    Spilling the beans isn't by definition accidental. It's somebody's secret, but not necessarily that of the person revealing it. "I would prefer he didn't know, but Bob went and spilled the beans."
    – Stephen R
    Apr 4, 2018 at 0:02
  • @StephenR Is there any other idiom that means when secret is by mistake or accidentally told?
    – Sasan
    Apr 6, 2018 at 19:10
  • “Let slip” comes to mind
    – Stephen R
    Apr 6, 2018 at 19:24
  • @StephenR What about "letting the cat out of the bag"?
    – Sasan
    Apr 6, 2018 at 19:40
  • All such phrases are subjective, but I see that one as the same as “spilling the beans”. You revealed something that somebody wanted to keep secret, but it’s not necessarily accidental on your part. “Let slip” is similar to “slip of the tongue” — an unintentional utterance
    – Stephen R
    Apr 6, 2018 at 19:43

2 Answers 2


It's called an idiom. (You've used the term idiomatic, which means "having to do with an idiom." Idiom is the noun form.)

An idiom is an expression peculiar to a single language (although there may be similar ones in other languages) that has a unique meaning. We have another idiom with a similar meaning: let the cat out of the bag.

Your sentence would read like this, although I'll change it to better reflect what you're trying to say:

Secrets can be accidentally revealed, as indicated by the idiom "spilling the beans."

What I might say is:

"Spilling the beans" is an idiom that means revealing a secret that one was expected to keep.

(Spilling the beans isn't necessarily accidental.)

A friend's wife once invited me to his birthday party. I couldn't remember the time, so I called and left a message asking if they might call back and remind me. I got a call from his wife, telling me the time and that it was also to be a surprise party!! I'm glad my friend didn't hear the message, because if he had, I would have spilled the beans/let the cat out of the bag.

Here's an amusing list of idioms from a number of countries, which will show the disparity of ways that different languages use idiomatic metaphors to convey common ideas.

The article mentions a Thai idiom one afternoon in your next incarnation, meaning "never going to happen." There is quite a list of idioms for this particular idea: two English ones are when hell freezes over and when pigs fly. Others mentioned in the article are when hens have teeth (French), when a lobster whistles on top of a mountain (Russian, and my favorite), and when cows dance on the ice (Dutch).

  • 8
    Quick note: I'm pretty sure "spilling the beans" isn't only accidental revelations.
    – Rob Grant
    Apr 3, 2018 at 18:08
  • 1
    One thing both idioms have in common is the uncontrolled nature of the literal meaning. If you spill dried beans, they will skitter everywhere and getting all of them back in the container will be next to impossible. Getting a cat in a bag is a huge challenge, so once it's in there, you don't want to let it out until you're good and ready, because a cat that has been in a bag and then been let out will fight twice as hard to not be put back in. Much like a secret can't be retracted once it has been revealed. Apr 3, 2018 at 19:37
  • What about the second part of the question? " ..., which is referred to as spilling the beans" or "..., referred to sometimes as spilling the beans", or ...?
    – Sasan
    Apr 3, 2018 at 20:41
  • 1
    @RobertGrant Me too! I got caught up in fixing the OP's definition and forgot. I've updated the post, and thanks.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 4, 2018 at 8:25
  • 2
    @ToddWilcox I always thought that expression was when someone sold you a cat instead of a piglet ( see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_in_a_poke ) Apr 4, 2018 at 9:25

As far as i know, "Spilling the beans" is referred to as an Idiom.

Here's a link to an article linking the phrase to the term "Idiom".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .