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Where Does the Phrase “Spill the Beans” Come From?

If you "spilled the beans," you revealed information that was meant to be kept private — but why a can of beans? It dates back to ancient Greece, when people would use beans to vote anonymously. White beans were used for positive votes and black beans for negative votes. These votes were cast in secret, so if someone knocked over the beans in the jar — whether by accident or intentionally — that meant they had “spilled the beans” and revealed the results of the votes prematurely. Since the 16th century, when used as a verb, the word “spill” has meant “divulge” or “let out.” How many times have you heard someone say, “Okay, spill your guts.” Of course, we understand that to mean that the person should divulge all they know about a situation. So, the next time you hear the phrase “spill the beans,” you’ll know what it means and where it came from.