Sunday, January 24, 2010

Close Encounters of the Word Kind

Alright so I had this idea for a new series of posts that discusses the meaning and origin of certain "expressions" that we all seem to use but very few actually know what they mean.  So here it is Jeff Reporters, the first ever "Close Encounter of the Word Kind," hopefully you all enjoy.

Expression:  "The Cat's out of the Bag"

I found myself using this phrase recently and was curious exactly what this meant.  What does it mean exactly to let the cat out of the proverbial bag?  Who put the cat into the bag?  Why did this person put the cat into the bag?

Well here is what I found out from my internet research.  The term is obviously meant to mean releasing some sort of secret to be known to the public.  But what do cat's and bags have to do with anything about keeping or not keeping secrets?  Well, apparently bag in the day when farmers used to barter with each other they used to put the piglets they wanted to sell in a bag.  Now, when a farmer was trying to fool another farmer he would (apparently) put a cat into a bag and use it to pass off as a piglet.  Naturally, if the farmer were to let the cat "out of the bag" then he would be giving up his secret and would no doubt lose his deal.

Now, there is another possible origin of this word in which it refers to the "cat o' nine tails" used to whip people which was kept in a bag.  This whip used for corporal punishment would be taken "out of the bag" when it was used leading to the possible origin of the phrase.

In the end, the most likely origin of this phrase is the former and that one seems to make the most sense to me.  So next time somebody tells you a secret and everyone thinks you have a little piglet, remember to not let the "cat out of the bag."

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