Now, the VOA Special English
program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.
people have different ways of saying things – their own special
expressions. Each week we tell about
some popular American expressions.
The bag is one of the
most simple and useful things in the world.
It is a container made of paper or cloth. It has given the world many strange expressions
that are not very simple. Some of them
are used in the United States today.
is bagman. It describes a go-between. The go-between sees to it that money is
passed – often illegally – from one person to another.
widely-used expression is to let the cat
out of the bag. It is used when
someone tells something that was supposed to be secret. No one can explain how the cat got into the
bag. But there is an old story about it.
Long ago tradesmen
sold things in large cloth bags. One day
a woman asked for a pig. The tradesman
held up a cloth bag with something moving inside it. He said it was a live pig. The woman asked to see it. When the dishonest tradesman opened the bag,
out jumped a cat – not a pig. The
tradesman's secret was out. He was
trying to trick her. And now everybody
phrase to be left holding the bag is
as widely used as the expression to let the cat out of the bag.
expression makes the person left holding the bag responsible for an action,
often a crime or misdeed. That person is
the one who is punished. The others
involve in the act escape.
expression came from is not clear. Some
say that General George Washington used it during the American Revolutionary
of Washington's officers, Royall Taylor, used the expression in a play about
Daniel Shay's rebellion. The play was in
seventeen eighty-seven, after Taylor helped to put down Shay's rebellion.
a thousand war veterans in an attack on a federal building in Springfield,
Massachusetts. Guns were in the
building. Some of the protesters were
farmers who had no money to buy seed. Some
had been put in prison for not paying their debts. They were men who fought one war against the
king of England, and were now prepared to fight against their own
government. Most of the rebels were
captured. Shays and some of the officers
In his play,
Taylor describes Shays as disappearing, giving others "the bag to hold."
bag is useful in many ways. Just be
careful not to let the cat out of the
bag, or someone may leave you holding
You have been listening to the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND
THEIR STORIES. This is Bob Doughty.