When it comes to English idioms, beans rule. Here are just a few idioms that employ bean or beans:
In the 1800s the idiom hill of beans was born, meaning worthless, mostly due to the relative lack of value of beans.
Since the 1800s, someone who is full of energy can be said to be full of beans.
In 1830, it could be said of a clever person that s/he knows how many beans make five. Though nobody is certain, this idiom may have provided the contrast for the phrase suggesting someone is anything but clever, s/he doesn’t know beans.
Since 1837, a thin person might be referred to as a beanpole.
Spill the beans first showed up in 1910, when it meant spoil the situation. By 1919 spill the beans meant reveal a secret.
Since 1940 we’ve been referring to a small close-fitting hat as a beanie, a term that grew out of the 1910 slang word for head, bean.
It appears the idiom cool beans, meaning excellent! (as of the 80s & 90s) may have originated in the 1970s, when a handful of colorful uppers &/or downers looked like a handful of jelly-beans.
And, since 1971, anyone overly focused on trivial details can be referred to as a bean-counter. Like hill of beans, this idiom reflects the relative lack of value of beans.
Do any of you out there know beans? If so, please leave a comment.
Thanks to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, the OED, Merriam-Webster, Word Detective, & Wordnik.com.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.