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The phrase “spill the beans” has a fascinating origin story

Posted by
Carl Anka
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Here’s a mildly interesting fact to fill your day with: the plastic sheath that comes at the end of a shoelace is called an aglet.

Want another? The metal bit that connects the end of a pencil to a rubber is called a ferrule. 

One more? Dear reader, let us explain to you the origin of the term “spill the beans”.

No, not that one

As people far cleverer than us explained (Tim Bowen at One Stop English), spill the beans has its origins in an Ancient Greek political process. 

No, really. 

Apparently, in Ancient Greece, the voting process involved candidates leaving their upturned helmets in a line. Voters would then go up to the helmet of the person they wished to vote for and place a bean inside it to indicate their vote. The candidate with the most beans in their helmet at the end was the winner.

Think of it a bit like the part of Game of Thrones when a certain someone got voted Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. 

When the voting process ended, the winning candidate would receive their helmet, containing all their victory bean votes. 

In front of everyone, the newly elected official would then spill the beans from their helmet before placing it upon their head, signifying their acceptance of the new position.

They literally split beans from their head to reveal the outcome of a secret process.

And that is why spilling the beans today means to share something that was previously a secret. 

So now you know – you have a useless but interesting new fact to use down the pub.