(WYTV) – Who let the cat out of the bag, and who came up with that expression?
We first see this in print in 1760 in a publication called the London Magazine. It had a book review in which the reviewer with that the author had not let the cat of the bag, referring to some kind of plot point.
But the origin of the phrase is unknown, however linguists have a theory.
“Let the cat out of the bag” dates back to the Middle Ages.
A dishonest livestock vendor in a medieval marketplace might sell you an expensive young piglet in a bag but substitute a cat, when your back was turned.
It wasn’t until the buyer arrived home and, literally, let the cat out of the bag that he’d realize he’d been scammed, the secret revealed.
Both the Dutch and German versions of this phrase translate to “to buy a cat in a bag,” which ties it to a deceitful purchase.
And the Spanish translation means “to give a cat for a hare,” suggesting that it would be rabbits, not pigs, that vendors would switch with the cats.
A cat in a bag is cousin to that other expression, buy a pig in a poke ‘don’t buy a pig until you have seen it’.
Poke is an old time word for bag.
A pig that’s in a poke might turn out to be no pig at all, but a cat that you just let out of the bag. A 500 year old phrase, at least.