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Come clean

Posted by ESC on July 06, 2008 at 22:36

In Reply to: Come clean posted by ESC on July 06, 2008 at 22:24:

: : Where does this come from? It is the title of a school book my 9 year old son is reading at the moment. One of the questions at the back is about how the title relates to telling the truth. I have told him that "come clean" means tell the truth, but can't tell him how the saying came about. Any ideas?

: to make a clean breast of it -- mid to late 18th century. To confess, to own up unreservedly. Come clean, 19th century, the same as "to get it off your chest." From Cassell's Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green (Wellington House, London, 1998). Page 763.

: My theory. Most people, when they have told a lie or done something wrong, will feel "heavy hearted." The emotional stress makes their chest hurt. Telling the truth -- or getting it off their chest -- relieves the pressure. Of course, sometimes telling the truth gets the person in trouble. That's the downside.

Looks like Ms. Ammer agrees with me.

make a clean breast of something -- To make a full confession. The word "breast" here is a synonym for "heart," long considered the seat of private emotion and, by extension, secrets. Shakespeare referred to cleansing one's bosom in Macbeth (5:3). The current cliche dates from the early eighteenth century. From "Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches," second edition, edited by Christine Ammer, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006. age 261.