I was reading a manga on Mangarock in English when I saw this idiom. Can you explain to me why the meaning of the idiom "jig is up" is "discovered in the act of dishonesty"?

  • @QuangPham, just so you know, this is an old expression no longer used in US English on a common basis. It is used only in black and white movies. – Karlomanio Jan 14 at 15:48
  • @Karlomanio it's still used in England from time to time it's not commonplace in most of England but some regions do still use it particularly when parents catch children in a lie :D – Martin Barker Jan 14 at 16:13
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    Evidence from Google Books suggest that the expression is still used books.google.com/ngrams/… – user240918 Jan 14 at 16:23
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    @user240918 - That graph might be a little misleading. I searched through the results, and many of the hits seemed to be either a fishing-lure pun in a publication such as Field and Stream, references to a ballet by the same name, or dictionary entries. (I'm not arguing the expression is out-of-use; I just don't think it's trending upward as that ngram might imply.) – J.R. Jan 14 at 20:03
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    It was certainly still in use as recently as 1978, when one of my favorite songs (Styx's "Renegade") featured the line "The jig is up, the news is out / They've finally found me / The renegade, who had it made / Retrieved for a bounty..." – MT_Head Jan 15 at 4:15

'X is up' is an idiom meaning 'X is finished'

'the jig is up' is also an idiom

Definition of the jig is up

US, informal + old-fashioned

—used to say that a dishonest plan or activity has been discovered and will not be allowed to continue

The jig is up: where did you hide the stolen goods?



Jig is an old term for a lively dance, and in the Elizabethan era the word also became slang for a practical joke or a trick. This idiom derives from this obsolete slang word.


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    "Jig" is also a sort of fishhook thingie, and being "up" means the success/failure of the fishing attempt has been revealed. – Hot Licks Jan 14 at 13:06
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    @Hot Licks - An old expression has indeed humorously been adopted by the fishing community in recent years but how does this relate to the actual question? – chasly from UK Jan 14 at 14:04
  • It is a plausible alternative origin of the expression. – Hot Licks Jan 14 at 14:05
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    @Hot Licks - (1) The OP didn't ask for the origin (2) How does success/failure relate to "discovered in the act of dishonesty"? (3) If you research it and can convince me that the modern fishing expression pre-dated a slang expression from the era of Queen Elizabeth I then I'll be happy to believe you. – chasly from UK Jan 14 at 14:09

From Green’s Dictionary of Slang:


  • late 16C SE, a comical performance, usu. given in the interval or at the conclusion of a play.

Jig is up/over:

(also jigg) a trick, a swindle; thus as verb, to trick; jigger noun, a swindler; thus the jig is up/over, the game is up:

  • 1611 - J. Cook Greenes Tu Quoque Scene xvi: Why but what Jigge is this?

  • 1777 - Maryland Journal 17 June n.p.: Mr. John Miller came in and said, ‘The jig is over with us.’.


According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jig:



1a: any of several lively springy dances in triple rhythm

1b: music to which a jig may be danced

2: TRICK, GAME —used chiefly in the phrase the jig is up

The definition follows the entry from Etymologyonline:

The name of the dance was the first meaning of the word. From 1580s JIG is used as the music for such a dance. The extended sense "piece of sport, trick" (1590s), survives mainly in the phrase the jig is up (first attested 1777 as the jig is over).

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/up:


at an end // your time is up

So, the original meaning of the idiom is 'the trick or the game has finished; everything's clear'.

As TRICK usually some negative connotation (according to MWD: ''a crafty procedure or practice meant to deceive or defraud'' https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trick), hence the modern meaning.


In my opinion, "jig" here is used with the meaning "bait". The meaning derives from the literal meaning "leaping up and down movements". As you can imagine, we do divert attention from the fish by jiggling the bait up and down. And if we see "jig" here as bait, then "jig is up" means "the bait is up". If we see bait as something that motivates one to do unacceptable things, like fish wanting to catch the bait so badly, when you pull the "bait" up by turning the reel, the perpetrator is also revealed to all. And like a fish, the perpetrator will be "eaten", by which i mean punished or condemned. So that's why i deduced, based on logic, that "jig is up" means "discovered in the act of dishonesty". And one more thing, the reason for the "dishonesty" part is because the fish is chasing the bait when it's discovered, referring to an unacceptable goal.

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    Hello and welcome to StackExchange - When answering please don't guess about meanings. If you give an answer please show what research you have done to arrive at your conclusion. – chasly from UK Jan 14 at 10:24
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    @chaslyfromUK this is the OP. This would be a very good addition in the question, Quang Pham, please edit(share) your post and include your logical explanation there. It's quite good, tell the truth but it is unsupported. But you have guessed its meaning. Well done! – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 at 10:34
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    @Mari-Lou - I don't understand what you are saying. The OP says, "why [is] the meaning of this idiom "jig is up" [...] "discovered in the act of dishonesty?". Quang Pham has not guessed the meaning - it was explicitly stated in the OP. The incorrect guess that I am complaining about is the completely made-up story about fishing. Please can you explain further what you mean? Thanks. – chasly from UK Jan 14 at 10:40
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    @ Mari-Lou A - The correct sense is there because it was stated in the question not through any cleverness on the part of this answerer. The actual question was, "Why are these phrases equivalent?" I think you are misleading people by suggesting there is anything correct about this answer. – chasly from UK Jan 14 at 10:45
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    @chaslyfromUK if you think I upvoted it, you're mistaken. If you think my comment can sway people's opinions, again, you're mistaken. If you think I was wrong to give a few words of encouragement to a non-native speaker, you're perfectly within your rights. – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 at 10:51

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