Understanding the Idiom: "let slip" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The idiom “let slip” has been in use for centuries and is still prevalent today. It is often used in informal conversation as well as in written communication such as books, articles, and social media posts. Understanding its meaning and usage can help you communicate more effectively with native English speakers.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “let slip”

The idiom “let slip” is a commonly used phrase in the English language that refers to accidentally revealing information or making a mistake. This phrase has been used for centuries and its origins can be traced back to early English literature.

During the 16th century, the phrase “to let slip” was often used in reference to hunting. It referred to when a hunter would release their grip on their prey, allowing it to escape. Over time, this phrase began to be used more broadly as a metaphor for losing control over something or allowing it to get away.

In the 19th century, “let slip” began being used specifically in reference to revealing secrets or confidential information. This usage likely arose from the idea of accidentally letting go of one’s tongue and saying something that should have remained hidden.

Today, “let slip” continues to be widely used in everyday conversation and writing. Its historical context provides insight into how language evolves over time and how idioms can change meaning depending on cultural shifts.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “let slip”


The idiom “let slip” has several variations that are commonly used in English. Some of these include “slip up,” “give away,” and “spill the beans.” While they may have slightly different connotations, they all essentially mean the same thing – revealing something that was meant to be kept secret or hidden.


One common usage of the idiom “let slip” is when someone accidentally reveals information that they were not supposed to disclose. For example, if you were planning a surprise party for your friend but accidentally mentioned it in front of them, you could say that you let slip the surprise.

Another way this idiom can be used is when someone makes a mistake or error due to carelessness or lack of attention. For instance, if a politician made an inappropriate comment during an interview without realizing it was being recorded, they might say that they let their guard down and let something slip out.

Additionally, the idiom can also be used figuratively to describe situations where someone loses control over something important or valuable. For instance, if a company’s profits began slipping due to poor management decisions, one could say that they let their success slip away.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “let slip”


Word Definition
Reveal To make known something previously secret or unknown.
Disclose To reveal information that was previously kept hidden or secret.
Divulge To make known something private or sensitive.

The above words are all synonyms of “let slip” in that they describe the act of revealing something that was meant to be kept secret. While each word has its own nuances, they all convey a similar idea.


Word Definition
Conceal To keep something hidden or secret from others.
Withhold To refuse to give or share information with others.
Suppress To prevent something from being revealed or made public.

The above words are antonyms of “let slip” in that they describe actions taken to keep information hidden rather than revealing it.

Understanding the cultural context of an idiom can also help us better understand its meaning. In Western cultures, for example, there is a strong emphasis on privacy and keeping personal information to oneself. Therefore, “letting slip” information that was meant to be kept private is seen as a breach of trust or social norms.

In contrast, some Eastern cultures place more value on community and sharing information with others. In these cultures, “letting slip” information may not carry the same negative connotations as in Western cultures.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “let slip”

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank

In this exercise, we have provided a sentence with a blank space where the idiom “let slip” should be used. Choose the correct form of the idiom from the options provided.

Sentence Options
I can’t believe he _______ that secret! a) let it slip b) slipped it c) let go of it d) released it
She accidentally ________ her true feelings about him. a) let them slip b) slipped them c) revealed them d) expressed them
The politician __________ his real intentions during the interview. a) let them slip b) slipped them c) hid them d) showed them

Exercise 2: Conversation Practice

In this exercise, you will practice using “let slip” in a conversation with a partner. Choose one of the scenarios below and take turns playing each role:

  • Scenario A:You and your friend are discussing a surprise party for someone. Your friend accidentally mentions the party in front of the person who it’s for.
  • Scenario B:You and your colleague are discussing a confidential project. Your colleague accidentally reveals some important information to someone outside of the team.

Use “let slip” in your conversation to describe what happened and how you feel about it. Try to use different tenses and forms of the idiom.

By practicing these exercises, you will be able to confidently use “let slip” in everyday conversations. Remember that this idiom is used when someone unintentionally reveals something they were supposed to keep secret or hidden.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “let slip”

When using idioms in conversation or writing, it’s important to use them correctly to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. The idiom “let slip” is no exception. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when using this idiom:

Mistake 1: Using the Wrong Tense

  • Incorrect: I will let slip that we’re planning a surprise party for her.
  • Correct: I might let slip that we’re planning a surprise party for her.

The idiom “let slip” refers to something that has already happened in the past. Therefore, it should be used in the past tense or with modal verbs such as might, could, or would.

Mistake 2: Using It Too Literally

  • Incorrect: She accidentally let slip that she hates his cooking.
  • Correct: She unintentionally revealed that she hates his cooking.

The idiom “let slip” means revealing information accidentally or unintentionally. However, it shouldn’t be used too literally as it can lead to confusion and misinterpretation of the intended meaning.

Mistake 3: Not Considering Context

  • Incorrect: He let slip about his affair during our business meeting.
  • Correct: He inadvertently mentioned his affair during our personal conversation.

The context of the situation plays an important role when using idioms like “let slip.” It’s crucial to consider whether the information was disclosed intentionally or not and what impact it may have on others involved in the conversation or situation at hand.

Avoiding these common mistakes can help you use the idiom “let slip” correctly and effectively in your conversations and writing.

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