John lured/talked the cat out of the bag

< Previous | Next >

kanadaaa

Senior Member
Japanese (Tokai)
Hi, I'm interested in whether the following idiomatic expression

(1) The cat is (let) out of the bag

retains its idiomatic interpretation in the following sentences:

(2) John lured the cat out of the bag. (John did something "luring" so that the secret would be revealed; He caused the secret to be disclosed)
(3) John talked the cat out of the bag. (John talked and the secret was revealed unintentionally)

Please note that it doesn't matter whether it sounds natural as a native speaker's utterance.
I'm just interested in whether or not the sentences could be interpreted as having the idiomatic reading, rather than a literal reading.
I'm also aware that the expression itself sounds kind of obsolete, but again I'm not concerned with it.

So the question is, is it possible to interpret the sentences in (2) and (3) as carrying the meaning of the idiomatic expression?
Thanks in advance.
 
  • boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Out of context, I would never imagine this referred to John 'letting the cat out' or 'spilling his guts' or anything to do with a secret. :)

    lured the cat out - e.g. waived a fish in front of the cat and it came out
    talked the cat out of the bag - takes a very intelligent cat - one that submits to persuasion :)
     

    reno33

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Before I can answer that, I need to know what, in your opinion, is the "idiomatic interpretation" of the sentences?? I'm not quite sure what you mean by that.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Letting the cat out of the bag isn’t obsolete in my world, although I realise I’m getting old now.


    Contrary to Boozer I immediately thought this was a riff in the established idiom. Maybe because I am more familiar with the set phrase?

    I like the idea of luring the cat out of the bag.
    Talking would also work but it seems more ambiguous, since both parties in a conversation must be talking. Lure is one-sided and works well.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Before I can answer that, I need to know what, in your opinion, is the "idiomatic interpretation" of the sentences?? I'm not quite sure what you mean by that.
    Do you really not know what “let the cat out of the bag” means?
     

    reno33

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Oh, I know what it means. I'm not so sure the OP does and therefore there's no sense attempting an answer if we're not on the same page on basics.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Contrary to Boozer I immediately thought this was a riff in the established idiom. Maybe because I am more familiar with the set phrase?
    Well, I did say 'out of context', as in walking down the street and seeing the two sentences, on their own, scribbled on a wall :D Under such extraordinary circumstances, I would still know the idiom at the back of my head, but I would assume John was trying to catch a cat hiding in a bag :D
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    It does not work for me. The metaphorical cat that is let out of the bag wants to escape, it needs no luring; the difficulty is keeping it within its bag. The sentences, especially the first one, might refer to a real cat, but cats aren't particularly renowned for responding to speech.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Oh, I know what it means. I'm not so sure the OP does and therefore there's no sense attempting an answer if we're not on the same page on basics.
    OK. I just wondered if you were evidence that the phrase is getting obsolete.
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    So the question is, is it possible to interpret the sentences in (2) and (3) as carrying the meaning of the idiomatic expression?
    You need to give us the context in which you want to use those sentences. Or you could make up a conversation, with someone saying something and then someone replying with those sentences. Without context, you're going to get a variety of answers, some saying it's possible and some saying it's not, which isn't going to help you much.
    I'm just interested in whether or not the sentences could be interpreted as having the idiomatic reading,
    Yes, but as the answers above show, people aren't going to be sure whether you're referring to the idiom or an actual cat unless you provide context.
     

    kanadaaa

    Senior Member
    Japanese (Tokai)
    Oh, I know what it means. I'm not so sure the OP does and therefore there's no sense attempting an answer if we're not on the same page on basics.
    You don't want to care about that.
    I'll tell you the purpose of this question if you're interested in what linguists do to develop their technical arguments.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Letting the cat out of the bag isn’t obsolete in my world, although I realise I’m getting old now.


    Contrary to Boozer I immediately thought this was a riff in the established idiom. Maybe because I am more familiar with the set phrase?

    I like the idea of luring the cat out of the bag.
    Talking would also work but it seems more ambiguous, since both parties in a conversation must be talking. Lure is one-sided and works well.
    I still think this. I doubt any non-native speaker would miss the riff on letting the cat out of the bag. I didn’t need anymore “context” to get your drift.

    Jack’s point about how an actually imprisoned cat would NOT need luring from a bag is a valid criticism.
    Who John is tempting to reveal the secret is the person holding the bag closed, rather than the cat itself.
     

    kanadaaa

    Senior Member
    Japanese (Tokai)
    I think I should give two different contexts for a (presumably) idiomatic reading and a literal meaning.

    (2) John lured the cat out of the bag. (John did something "luring" so that the secret would be revealed; He caused the secret to be disclosed)
    (3) John talked the cat out of the bag. (John talked and the secret was revealed unintentionally)

    (2) Literal:
    The cat refused to get out of the bag but John lured it out with yarn.

    (2) Idiomatic:
    John's boss was obviously hiding something and everybody wanted to know what it was. Then he talked to him/her and elicited the secret with some rhetorical techniques.

    (3) Literal (Maybe this sounds marginal, though)
    John talked (to) the cat (which seemed so comfortable in the bag); as a result, it came out of the bag.

    (3) Idiomatic
    John and his friends were planning to throw a surprise birthday party for Mary but he inadvertently mentioned "the secret" when he talked to her; as a result, she got to know a party was going to be thrown for her.

    I'm not very sure if these are good contexts but I hope they just work.
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    (2) John lured the cat out of the bag. (John did something "luring" so that the secret would be revealed; He caused the secret to be disclosed)
    (3) John talked the cat out of the bag. (John talked and the secret was revealed unintentionally)
    I agree with suzi br when she says
    I immediately thought this was a riff in the established idiom.
    But not so much here:
    Jack’s point about how an actually imprisoned cat would NOT need luring from a bag is a valid criticism.
    The cat represents a secret and the bag the person who holds it.
    Secrets immediately cease to be secrets once revealed - in this sense the cat immediately ceases to exist.

    As a saying, although graphic, it does not rely on the volition or intent of the cat because the cat's metaphorical counterpart, the secret, is passive, it says no more that X revealed the secret and it is a secret no more.

    and
    (2) John lured the cat out of the bag.
    (2a) John lured the secret out of the Jim.
    (3) John talked the cat out of the bag.
    (3) John talked the secret out of Jim.


    And "to let something out" has a meaning of "to reveal something".

    Thus, the modified expressions work for me.


    .
     

    kanadaaa

    Senior Member
    Japanese (Tokai)
    Letting the cat out of the bag isn’t obsolete in my world, although I realise I’m getting old now.
    I remember someone pointed out to me that it sounds kind of old-fashioned.
    I said that just because I wanted to eliminate all unwanted answers:)
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ...
    Please note that it doesn't matter whether it sounds natural as a native speaker's utterance.
    I'm just interested in whether or not the sentences could be interpreted as having the idiomatic reading, rather than a literal reading.
    ...
    So the question is, is it possible to interpret the sentences in (2) and (3) as carrying the meaning of the idiomatic expression?
    Is it possible? Well yes, especially as you have explained what you want it to mean. Would most people interpret it that way? No, not in my opinion. Most people would assume a real cat in a real bag until context made it clear thst the metaphor was intended.

    I don't really see the point of the question. Anything can mean anything if you explain it enough. For example in Cockney rhyming slang 'Apples and pears' means 'stairs', however for someone who doesn't know Cockney rhyming slang, 'apples and pears' means only 'apples and pears' and nothing else.

    Perhaps you could explain in more detail what you are asking.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Well, my understanding of the established idiom is that the cat is contained once you have forced it inside a bag. It cannot go around tending to its feline business, getting in your way, breaking a vase, fighting with the neighbour's dog or pissing in your shoes :) The cat does want to do all that, of course.
    You do the same with a secret. You force it inside a bag but it still has a will of its own - it wants out.
    You let them out, either of them, and they start getting in your way and, what is more, you cannot catch them and put them back in - they are too quick, too nimble, too elusive - they are out and it can't be helped.
    So a secret is not passive, for me. It does not need to be lured out or talked out of a bag, just as UJ says. This is why I would need context to interpret those examples the way they are meant, based on the idiom. Out of context, it is only cats and clever ways of taking them out of bags. :)
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    Figuratively, different species: "John wormed it out of him/her/them.", "it" being whatever the other person(s) was/were trying to keep secret. "To let the cat out of the bag" means to inadvertently reveal something that was supposed to have been kept secret. That is, unless we're talking about a real cat that is seeking refuge/hiding in a bag and that John lured out with, say, a morsel of its favorite food or some catnip.

    With refence to Chasint's #19: Sometimes Cockney (or mock-Cockney) speakers will use only the first word of a rhyming expression: "I tell yer, me old China, I nearly chucked the trouble down the apples when she told me she'd sold the Joanner." ("China"->China plate->mate (friend), "trouble"->trouble and strife->wife, "apples"->apples and pears->stairs, "Joanner [Joanna]"->piano.
     
    Last edited:

    kanadaaa

    Senior Member
    Japanese (Tokai)
    I'm not very sure how many people saw the example contexts I gave in #16.
    I'd appreciate it if you reconsidered (2) and (3) under these. Thank you.

    (From the discussions so far, I'm tempted to conclude both can be interpreted as idiomatic.)
     
    Last edited:

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    (2) John lured the cat out of the bag. (John did something "luring" so that the secret would be revealed; He caused the secret to be disclosed)
    (3) John talked the cat out of the bag. (John talked and the secret was revealed unintentionally)
    Those don't work for me, I'm afraid. They wouldn't make me think of "let the cat out of the bag"; they would just puzzle me.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    (2) John lured the cat out of the bag. (John did something "luring" so that the secret would be revealed; He caused the secret to be disclosed)
    (3) John talked the cat out of the bag. (John talked and the secret was revealed unintentionally)
    The problem with these is that they have no context. They have an explanation, but an explanation is not context.

    If your examples are put into a specific context, then they will work as you intended them. Absent that context, they could take on any meaning that the listener imagines.
     

    kanadaaa

    Senior Member
    Japanese (Tokai)
    I think I should give two different contexts for a (presumably) idiomatic reading and a literal meaning.

    (2) John lured the cat out of the bag. (John did something "luring" so that the secret would be revealed; He caused the secret to be disclosed)
    (3) John talked the cat out of the bag. (John talked and the secret was revealed unintentionally)

    (2) Literal:
    The cat refused to get out of the bag but John lured it out with yarn.

    (2) Idiomatic:
    John's boss was obviously hiding something and everybody wanted to know what it was. Then he talked to him/her and elicited the secret with some rhetorical techniques.

    (3) Literal (Maybe this sounds marginal, though)
    John talked (to) the cat (which seemed so comfortable in the bag); as a result, it came out of the bag.

    (3) Idiomatic
    John and his friends were planning to throw a surprise birthday party for Mary but he inadvertently mentioned "the secret" when he talked to her; as a result, she got to know a party was going to be thrown for her.

    I'm not very sure if these are good contexts but I hope they just work.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    (2) John lured the cat out of the bag. (John did something "luring" so that the secret would be revealed; He caused the secret to be disclosed)
    (3) John talked the cat out of the bag. (John talked and the secret was revealed unintentionally)
    While I am happy enough to see idioms twisted, they often fall flat unless you keep to the internal rules of the original metaphor. In "let the cat out of the bag", the cat is the secret, and the bag is the veil of secrecy that surrounds it, but what you appear to have forgetten is that the verb always has a subject, and it is this subject who reveals the secret.
    (2) Idiomatic:
    John's boss was obviously hiding something and everybody wanted to know what it was. Then he talked to him/her and elicited the secret with some rhetorical techniques.
    So here, it is John's boss who reveals the secret, and you might say that John lured his boss into letting the cat escape. The cat wasn't lured anywhere.
    (3) Idiomatic
    John and his friends were planning to throw a surprise birthday party for Mary but he inadvertently mentioned "the secret" when he talked to her; as a result, she got to know a party was going to be thrown for her.
    John let the cat out of the bag. This is exactly the situation the "let the cat out of the bag" metaphor describes, so why would you try to confuse matters by twisting it into something else? John didn't talk the cat (or anyone or anything else) into doing anything.

    in this sense the cat immediately ceases to exist.
    Well, that would be rather a neat solution to Schrödinger's problem, wouldn't it?:)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    That's something you don't want to ask. I don't want to confuse people by telling the reason, which is extremely technical.
    If people are going to spend time answering your questions, don't you think it would be courteous to explain why you're asking them?
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    If people are going to spend time answering your questions, don't you think it would be courteous to explain why you're asking them?
    :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
    And then, there may be other linguists here who might be willing to submit a prejudiced opinion once they know the reason, in its entire technicality :)
    I'll tell you the purpose of this question if you're interested in what linguists do to develop their technical arguments.
     

    kanadaaa

    Senior Member
    Japanese (Tokai)
    If people are going to spend time answering your questions, don't you think it would be courteous to explain why you're asking them?
    I think so. I was hoping I wouldn't have to, but if you're desperate, here's the reason:

    It's argued in Chomsky (1981) that this kind of resultative construction has a derivation involving a PRO for the resultative predicate, like:

    (1) John painted the house [(SC) PRO red].

    This is an instance of transitive resultative, but things become complicated when we consider other types of resultative like intransitive resultative and "unspecified object" resultative like the following:

    (2) John ran the pavement thin.
    (3) John ate the cupboard empty.

    Without the resultative predicates, these become ungrammatical or pragmatically anomalous:

    (4) *John ran the pavement.
    (5) #John ate the cupboard.

    I was just thinking that these facts might be captured if these were derived by raising of an SC subject to the direct object position:

    (6) John ran the pavement [(SC) t thin].
    (7) John ate the cupboard [(SC) t empty].

    These structures indicate that the apparent direct object is not directly subcategorized by the main verb.
    This is why I thought I'd ask this question.
    If sentential idioms are possible in this construction, it is strong evidence that it involves movement in its derivation, and if not, it strengthens Chomsky's original proposal.
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    I think so.
    ...but if you're desperate,
    That doesn't sound particularly courteous to me. No one's "desperate" to hear your reasons. But the people who spend their free time on this forum answering questions usually genuinely want to help, and generally want to do a good job. Giving as much detail as possible helps them do that.
     

    kanadaaa

    Senior Member
    Japanese (Tokai)
    That doesn't sound particularly courteous to me. No one's "desperate" to hear your reasons. But the people who spend their free time on this forum answering questions usually genuinely want to help, and generally want to do a good job. Giving as much detail as possible helps them do that.
    I apologize if I sounded offensive.
    But please understand that I have no idea whether there are any linguists on this forum.
    Because of this, I really didn't want to tell the reason and make it too technical for non-linguists to give their opinions.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    deleted - not needed
    So the question is, is it possible to interpret the sentences in (2) and (3) as carrying the meaning of the idiomatic expression?
    "Yes." This is probably as there are so very few occasions in English when a real cat is released from a real bag.
     
    Last edited:

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Now I've seen your explanation, I'm puzzled as to why you're creating sentences like John lured the cat out of the bag/John talked the cat out of the bag when you could start with the usual idiom John let the cat out of the bag.

    But never mind!
     

    goldenband

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I don't find the idiomatic meaning of the hypothetical sentences hard to intuit at all, but it would certainly help if there were a parallel construction, and/or some sort of verbal stress to emphasize the point of difference with the primary idiom:

    I wouldn't say that John let the cat out of the bag, but rather that Suzanne lured the cat out of the bag. [verbal emphasis through pitch accent, volume, and increased vowel length]

    Well, Joyce did spill the secret...but let's just say that someone sweet-talked the cat out of the bag, if you know what I mean. [probable verbal emphasis through pitch accent and slight increase in vowel length]
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    These structures indicate that the apparent direct object is not directly subcategorized by the main verb.
    This is why I thought I'd ask this question.
    I think it is but that it is subcategorised by the verb and its adjectival complement. However, not all verbs are capable of accepting every adjectival complement - English is heavily dependent upon context and, to no small extent, common sense.
    6) John ran the pavement [(SC) t thin].
    (7) John ate the cupboard [(SC) t empty].
    They drank the pub dry. :tick: To drink <object> dry (idiom)
    The drank the pub drunk :cross: -> pubs cannot get drunk; if they drank, then the pub itself would be unaffected.
    The lake ran dry. :tick:
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I'm not very sure if I understand what you're getting at by this.
    OK, feel free to ignore it or compare it with run dry (apparently transitive and intransitive) "the pub ran dry" and "The landlord ran the pub dry." and "They drank the pub dry."
    (I have sent a PM that may be helpful.)
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top