Posted by James Briggs on February 03, 2004
In Reply to: Spill the beans posted by Lotg on February 03, 2004
: Why does 'spill the beans' mean to release information that wasn't meant to be released? The only connection I can imagine is that someone once spilt beans that should have remained contained and that somehow was translated to cover the spilling of information that should have remained secret.
Beans: To spill the beans indicates that a secret has been revealed. The suggested origin of this one is similar to, but older, than that of to "black ball". The ancient Greeks were very fastidious about who they would let into membership of their many secret societies. A common voting method was for members to drop either a white or a black bean into a jar. White meant acceptance and black rejection of the new application. It only needed a few black beans for total rejection. The precise numbers of white and black votes were meant to be secret but, occasionally, the jar was knocked over and the beans were spilt.
This splendid suggested origin is somewhat marred by the fact that the saying only came into general use in the 1920s; however I know of no better explanation.