I understand what the phrase "letting on" means. It basically means to pretend, as in

He continued letting on that he had a lame leg.

It can also mean to disclose or reveal the true meaning of something.

Where did this term come from? When did it originate?

1 Answer 1


In "Glossary of supposed Americanisms" by Alfred Langdon Elwyn (1859), I find this:

Let on, to mention. "He never let on," he never told me. An Icelandic word, laeta. (Brockett.) "He never let on to me about it," may be heard not unfrequently in the country.

The "Brockett" referred to appears to be "A Glossary of North Country Words", by John Trotter Brockett, FSA (1846) but I can't find the reference to "let on" or "laeta" in the samples that Google provides.

The first place I've found it used with the implication of "lying by omission", as in your example, is in a story called "Little Fairly" by Samuel Lover, Esq. R.H.A. in "The Dublin University magazine", Volume 1 (1833)

"Well there's the scales for you," says big Fairly, and away the little chap wint to weigh his goold (as he let on) as he did before.

  • By the way - when digging through NGrams for "let on", you get an awful lot of false positives in the early years because of: 1) the "long s" (you know, the "purfuit of happinefs" character) 2) the archaic spelling of "one" as "on". So many of the early instances of "let on" turn out to really be "set on", "let one", or even "set one".
    – MT_Head
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 7:02

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