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Spill the beans

刊登日期: 2019.05.03
作者: Grace Tse  

Although the world has fewer monarchs nowadays, it is undeniable that the British royal family continues to attract international attention. Thus, the media are keen to report on their private lives particularly if any of their staff spills the beans. Even we, as ordinary people, easily spill the beans in the contexts of families, friends, or work. Have you ever spilled the beans when you were asked not to? 

The idiom “spill the beans” means “reveal the secret by accident or maliciously”. The story behind it is believed to be a voting practice in ancient Greece. Each voter cast a vote by secretly placing either a white (meaning “yes”) or black (meaning “no”) bean in a pot. If someone knocked over the jar and the beans were spilled out, then the votes were seen. 

However, some scholars argued that this may not be true because the phrase did not appear in print until the early 20th century. They found that one of its early uses meant a serious mistake which led to defeat in the context of horse racing. 

Its current figurative meaning appeared in 1919 in “Man from Tall Timber” by an American, Thomas K. Holmes. 

“‘Mother certainly has spilled the beans (說漏嘴;泄漏秘密) !’ thought Stafford in vast amusement.” 

Some linguists suggested that the current usage may be related to an old definition of the verb “spill”, meaning “divulge” or “let out” in 1577. Then why beans, but not anything else? Some said that it could have been anything, such as “spill the word”, “spill everything” or “spill it”. 


Glossary 
Monarchs 
帝王
Undeniable 
不可否認
Private 
私人的
Reveal 
泄露
Maliciously 
惡意地
Voting 
選舉
Defeat 
失敗
Divulge 
泄漏

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