Why Do We Say That Someone “Let The Cat Out Of The Bag”?

A wise old man once told me that two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. He didn’t live that long after that. Because of that, I’m a little on edge letting you in on his secret for keeping a confidence. I’d be more concerned about it if I wasn’t pretty sure that smoking had a lot more to do with his demise than telling secrets.

If two living people have a secret and one of them reveals the secret we often say that person “let the cat out of the bag”. Let’s explore why we might say that.

Don’t Get Caught Holding That Bag

Unless the secret is “I have a cat in this bag, don’t tell anyone”, we can say with confidence that the bag and cat situation is a metaphor for telling a secret.  It is an unfortunate metaphor that, I imagine, came from someone who’d been involved in such a despicable act.

Putting a cat in a bag is cruel and wrong. I’d suppose that getting the cat’s co-operation isn’t easy; someone who’d do such a thing deserves whatever damage their cat might inflict while they’re putting it in to a bag. But the image of a frustrated and confused feline rocketing out of that bag pretty accurately represents the energy of being shocked by a big secret being told.

I Have A Cat. Imagine That.

Me, giving Boog Powell an autographed ball cap.

Me, in 2012, giving Boog Powell an autographed ball cap. And a pen.

My wife and I adopted a big orange and white cat from a rescue organization last weekend. We changed his name to Boog for two reasons. First, the legal process wasn’t that difficult. But the real reason was to honor one of my favorite Baltimore Orioles players,  first baseman John Wesley (Boog) Powell.

Powell, part of the 1966 and 1970 World Series championship Orioles teams, was (and still is) a pretty big dude, as is our new cat. Our big cat is a lousy first baseman but is orange and white, the Orioles colors.

It took a few days for us get approval  to adopt Boog the cat; my wife wasn’t with me when I returned to the shelter to pick him up. Boog seemed a little put out with having to be in a carrier box and riding in a car. I tried talking to him to calm him down. That helped a bit, but he really settled down when I let him listen to  Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run album.

A cat that likes Bruce. We’ll get along fine.

I Use A Science Word – Hypothesis

While I drove, I thought about the cat in the bag metaphor. It occurred to me that the cat in the box on the passenger seat next to me provided a completely ethical opportunity to see if there was something to the bagged cat legend. If ever I was going to learn if letting a cat out of the bag was the explosion of energy that I’d been lead to believe it is, that was going to be my day.

I think that scientists like me call this a hypothesis.

Boog, the cat.

Boog, the cat.

Boog and I pulled up at home and I turned off the car. He meowed. He was right in the middle of listening to Thunder Road when the music stopped.

Science Word Two – Experimentation

I set the portable kennel box down and closed the front door. I could see the cat moving around inside the box. “This is going to be great” I thought, “here he goes”. I unlatched the door and stood back.


Finally, Boog poked his head out, looked around and tentatively walked out. He looked around a little more, circled the box and then went back in. He must have realized he left something in there, because he only stayed a moment and then strolled back out to carefully explored his new home.

He didn’t shoot out of the box. There was no kinetic burst. Boog just strolled around. I’m glad he felt comfortable, but I have to admit his entrance disappointed me.

Science Word Three – Conclusion

So, it is my duty to inform you that the “letting the cat out of the bag” metaphor is not supported by the facts exposed by my research. In 100% of my one simulated cat/bag release situations, Boog the cat simply walked out. To be fair, I do have to include that cats may find bags more objectionable that boxes* and that results may vary according to your cat transportation method.

I’m sure that some of you will be disappointed in the results that I’m reporting. I’m sorry to be the one letting the cat out of the bag on this inaccurate metaphor. It’s better that you hear it from me than on the street, right?


*putting a cat in a bag will always be wrong, even in scientific metaphor research.

20 Comments on “Why Do We Say That Someone “Let The Cat Out Of The Bag”?”

  1. Blogdramedy says:

    So happy you didn’t put your cat in a bag to bring him home.

    But I was rather hoping that you’d tell us you got a cat. IN A HAT.

    *snorts and almost chokes because, yes, she’s that quick this early in the morning after the caffeine kicks in*

  2. Welcome to the good life, Boog!

    I worked a rabies clinic once when I was a teenager. We had folks that had nearly feral cats and didn’t have carriers, and it was probably for the best. They’d hold up a giant pilowcase and say “Just shoot him through the bag.” I bet once those cats got out of the bag, it would take another year to coax them back in.

  3. I was under the impression that the expression had something to do with public floggings in which a cat of nine tails was brought out of a bag. Not sure how this appropriated for letting out a morsel of unknown information.

  4. Cats in a bag, box or giant pillowcase would creep me out. There is something mystical about cats and I envision them in a confined space plotting against whoever put them there. I stay away from them.

  5. mikegee64 says:

    Ha! You have a cat. I am laughing at you.

  6. mikegee64 says:

    Remember hearing about how you shouldn’t have a cat if you have a baby because the cat will suck the breath out of the baby? What the hell is up with that? Has it ever happened?

    I ask you, not supposing that you instantly developed a savant-like knowledge of cats in the past 24 hours. No, it is because you are a person who has seen more than his fair share of death; homicides, suicides, pesticides, and on rare occasions, natural causes.

    Has anyone ever walked into the nursery and seen their cat sitting on the baby’s chest, holding the baby’ mouth closed and sucking on its nose? (I’m assuming that is how it works, I guess it could be vice versa, but it would have to be a much larger cat to suck a baby’s mouth… Like a bobcat or a ocelot… I’m giving this too much thought, I know, but I’m unemployed and its is much more fun than “working my professional network)

    Similarly, why are people afraid that bats are going to get tangled in their hair? Granted, I’m not a hair stylist and would not come in contact with people wanting “just a trim to the sides, taper the back and even up the bangs, oh and if you could, get the fuckin bat out of my hair!”… But I would think that I’d sometimes see the aftermath. But so far, nothing.

    Heh heh heh… You have a cat.

    • omawarisan says:

      I worked in the hood. The cats were armed and would tell you to suck your own breath out of yourself.

      Heh, heh, heh. My cat can beat your dog like a drum. Speaking of your dog, what kind of sick Island Of Dr Moreau crap went on there? That dog is one strand of dna from having webbed feet.

      • mikegee64 says:

        You refer, of course, to the fact that my dog, Lily, is half Chihuahua and half Italian Greyhound. It should be pointed out to your readers that Italian Greyhounds are not Greyhounds covered with marinara sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. Nor are they the large dogs seen on the sides of busses or at racetrack wearing numbered jerseys. Italian Greyhounds are miniature Greyhounds, so, everyone can relax and get the horrified looks off your faces trying not to imagine the horrific scene of her conception. But I know everyone is still picturing some violent scene at some doggy dive bar involving Lily’s mother, a pinball machine and a couple of dogs just off work from the track.

        She is a very small black dog who is about 8 years old. The past few years she has gone grey around the eyes, mouth and paws, making her look like a tiny canine Al Jolsen. Attempts to teach her to sing “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World” has so far proven as fruitless as her diet. She has, however started to mimic the way we call out “Helloooo?” when we come in the house. Yes, Jolsen speaks.

        But beyond all of that, I think you have finally stumbled on the secret to a good marriage: saying to your new wife “Sure, we can get a cat.” You have had two failed, cat-less marriages. I have had one marriage that has lasted almost 22 years and we got a cat early on. I think we are onto something here…

  7. knace says:

    This made me remember my gram had a cat that loved those brown paper grocery bags. Put one on the floor and hours of cat-tertainment would ensue. Maybe you should try it with Boog!

  8. pegoleg says:

    Maybe there would be a kinetic explosion if you had better secrets.

  9. […] You’ve been living with us for a few months. As you may know, this is the only time I’ve ever lived with a cat. The closest that I came to living with a cat before my wife and I adopted you was when I dated a girl who had a cat when I was in college. Even though I didn’t live with that cat, he somehow found the opportunity and motivation to urinate on me. […]

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