Letting the Cast Out of the Bag

Posted on February 20, 2012


Over dinner, our family occasionally picks an idiomatic saying that we plan to start mispronouncing in hopes the altered version will catch on until it some day finds its way back to us. This past week, instead of saying, “let the cat out of the bag,” which means to disclose confidential information, all four of us said to at least one person, “let the cast out of the bag.”

You would expect most people to immediately correct you–and your expectations were proved correct in this case–but the important thing is to anticipate their correction and to have a plausible historic explanation of the idiom’s creation. For example, my assistant Ken asked me:

“Is it true you’ve been hitting on my girlfriend?”

“Who told you that? Did she let the cast out of the bag?”

“Don’t you mean ‘let the cat out of the bag’?”

“Cat? No, I mean the cast is out of the bag. Why would you put a cat in a bag? A cat would hate that. And why would letting the cat out of the bag be a saying for revealing a secret? A cat would go nuts in a bag, meowing and scratching. If I held up a bag with my cat Megatron inside, and told my friend Todd, ‘You’ll never guess what’s in the bag?’ and he can’t guess all that meowing means there’s a cat inside, and then I let the cat out of the bag and he’s surprised like I just revealed a big secret, that means Todd is either an idiot or a liar.”

“But why would letting the cast out of the bag mean to reveal a secret anymore than cat out of the bag?”

“The saying originates with Shakespeare when he was casting his first production of Much Ado About Nothing, and he was hitting on this actress and implying that she could play Beatrice if she slept with him, and his friend Charles Dickens walks up and says, ‘Hey, Shakespeare, I typed up the cast list like you wanted,’ and Dickens pulls the cast list out of the bag and the actress sees that the role of Beatrice has already been cast, and she throws her rum and Coke right in Shakespeare’s face, and Shakespeare is all like, ‘Dickens, dude, why’d you let the cast out of the bag?'”

Our cat Megatron had no interest in getting into this bag.

If you decide to help in spreading this new idiom, you may also consider creating your own historic explanation:

“The saying originates with the astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Astronauts have to be in great physical condition, and Aldrin never revealed to NASA that he had recently broken his leg because he would have been scrapped for the moon mission. Buzz Aldrin was supposed to walk on the moon first, but Armstrong blackmailed Aldrin by holding up a pillowcase with Aldrin’s cast inside, and threatening, ‘I’ll let the cast out of the bag.'”

I hope you’ll take part in spreading this new idiom because if it catches on it would mean a lot to my kids to have made a difference in life at such a young age so they can take the rest of life off.

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