I'm looking for an idiom that means something like "making something too obvious", specifically hinting at an event in the future in such a way that it spoils the surprise. "Spelling something out" is very similar, but not quite the idiom I'm looking for. The context I'm using it in is describing a badly-written plot twist, where the foreshadowing was so obvious that it ruined the twist itself.

It's on the tip of my tongue, but I can't seem to find it. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • 'Spill the beans' and 'let the cat out of the bag' are closely related, but are more general; the hinting aspect is in no way referred to, merely the letting slip of something that is supposed to be kept secret. Probably, 'steal one's own thunder' is closer. 'Go off like a damp squib' means 'take place / be presented disappointingly, way below expectations', but no reference to the badly-kept secret. 'Fizzle out' is similar. Sep 19 '19 at 12:35

Telegraphing: per the OED:

To give an obvious hint or premature indication of (something to come). Also with that-clause as object.

  • Chicago Tribune 21 May (Midwest ed.) ii. 3/4 'The projected titles sometimes telegraphed the jokes before the performers actually sang them.'

As explained by the Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner:

Foreshadowing is when you purposely drop tiny hints about what’s going to happen later in the novel, to heighten the effect or the suspense. It might not even be a hint, but an image or idea that thematically relates to whatever’s going to happen later. It’s like subtle shading to plant tiny, even imperceptible, seeds in your reader’s mind.

Telegraphing is giving away too much, too soon, thereby ruining the suspense, or the impact of the event.


  • Yes, that's the exact word I was looking for! Thanks so much, that one has been driving me insane!
    – Segia
    Sep 19 '19 at 13:24
  • It's a bit outdated?
    – vectory
    Sep 29 '19 at 23:12
  • @vectory It is, however, the exact word the OP was looking for and currently in use by business people such as literary agents. Actual telegraph technology may be outdated, but terminology arising from it isn't.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 30 '19 at 9:18

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