Nugget of Knowledge: Who let the cat out of the bag?


(WYTV)- Why do we say: Who let the cat out of the bag?

We first see it in print in a 1760 book review in the London Magazine. The origin is murky but some linguists say it goes back to medieval times and a scam.

You bought a piglet at the market but the merchant would sneak a cat into the bag instead, cheating you out of the higher price for a pig. It wasn’t you arrived home and let the cat out of the bag that you realize you’d been scammed.

The debunking website Snopes says this explanation is not true, but both the Dutch ‘Een kat in de zak kopen and German versions of this phrase…’Die Katze im Sack kaufen’ translate to “to buy a cat in a bag,” so it might have meant a scam buy after all.

And we have another similar expression buy “pig in a poke,” to make a deal without fully checking it out. Poke is an old word for bag.

Or there’s a simpler explanation: it’s hard to stuff a squirming cat into a bag, that means keeping a secret. It’s just easier to let the cat out.

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