Sing Like a Canary: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
February 2, 2024

"Sing like a canary" is a colorful idiom often used to describe someone who reveals secrets or information, especially under pressure or when it's not in their best interest. This expression has literal and figurative connotations, each revealing interesting aspects of language and communication.

In short:

  • It metaphorically refers to someone who divulges information or secrets, often to authorities.
  • It's usually used when someone reveals more than they intended, particularly when they are under pressure or persuasion.

What Does "Sing Like a Canary" Mean?

The phrase "sing like a canary" is a metaphorical expression to describe someone who talks a lot or reveals secrets, particularly under pressure. The analogy is drawn from the way canaries sing beautifully and continuously, symbolizing the act of speaking at length or spilling secrets. For example, in a criminal investigation, a suspect who gives away important information to the police is said to "sing like a canary." This phrase implies a certain level of unwillingness or coercion, where the person divulging the information might not have done so under normal circumstances.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It is often associated with divulging secrets or confidential information, especially to an authority figure or in a legal context.
  • The expression can convey a sense of betrayal or disloyalty, as the information revealed might be damaging to others.
  • It can be used in various settings, from casual conversations to serious legal matters.
  • The phrase can carry a negative connotation, implying that the person talking has been pressured or coerced into revealing information.
  • Similar phrases include "spill the beans," "blab," or "tattle."

Where Does "Sing Like a Canary" Come From?

The origins of "sing like a canary" are somewhat obscure, but it's believed to stem from the early 20th century. The canaries, known for their melodious and continuous singing, were used metaphorically to describe someone who reveals information freely or under pressure. The phrase gained popularity in the context of criminal investigations and is often associated with informants or people who give away secrets under interrogation.

10 Examples of "Sing Like a Canary" in Sentences

To help you get a good grasp of when to use this phrase, let's check out some examples from different situations:

  • Under pressure from the investigators, the witness started to sing like a canary about the crime.
  • After a few drinks, he began to sing like a canary, sharing secrets he usually kept to himself.
  • The CEO sang like a canary during the trial, revealing the company's unethical practices.
  • In the movie, the captured spy sang like a canary when faced with the threat of imprisonment.
  • The whistleblower sang like a canary, exposing corruption within the government.
  • Despite being a sucker for flattery, when questioned by the authorities, he began to sing like a canary, revealing all the insider details.
  • The undercover cop, posing as a dope fiend, got the suspect to sing like a canary about the hidden operations of the gang.
  • At the potluck party, when it was her turn to perform, she surprised everyone by deciding to sing like a canary, showcasing her hidden talent.
  • During the interrogation, they decided to start with a soft approach, which unexpectedly made the hardened criminal sing like a canary.
  • The CEO was caught off guard at the press conference and, under pressure, began to sing like a canary about the company's controversial practices.

Examples of "Sing Like a Canary" in Pop Culture

This phrase is also prevalent in pop culture, often used in crime dramas, spy movies, and novels to depict characters revealing critical information.

Let's look at some examples:

  • The book “Sing Like a Canary” is written by Isobel Blackthorn. It’s a multi-layered mystery packed with suspense and is the fifth book in Isobel Blackthorn’s Canary Islands Mysteries Series.
  • In the movie “Scent of a Woman,” a line says, "Your life’s finished anyway. Your friend George is gonna sing like a canary."
  • The TV show “Alvinnn!!! And the Chipmunks” has an episode titled “Sing Like a Canary.” In this episode, a cute singing bird replaces Alvin in the band after Alvin makes too many demands as a performer.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Sing Like a Canary"

Here are some alternative phrases that express the same idea:

  • Spill the beans
  • Blab
  • Tattle
  • Let the cat out of the bag
  • Divulge secrets
  • Give away information
  • Reveal all
  • Turn informant
  • Go public with
  • Disclose

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Sing Like a Canary":

  • What does "sing like a canary" mean?

"Sing like a canary" means to reveal secrets or confidential information, often under pressure or coercion.

  • Is "sing like a canary" a negative phrase?

It can be seen as negative, as it often implies betrayal or disloyalty by divulging secrets or confidential information.

  • Can "sing like a canary" be used in a positive context?

While typically negative, it can be used positively, such as when someone reveals information to expose wrongdoing or corruption.

  • Is this phrase used in legal contexts?

Yes, it's often used in legal contexts to describe someone who provides crucial information, especially in criminal cases.

  • Can this phrase be used in everyday conversation?

Yes, it can be used casually to describe someone who is being unusually talkative or revealing secrets.

  • Does the phrase always imply coercion?

Not always. While often associated with coercion, it can simply mean someone is freely sharing more information than usual.

  • What kind of secrets does "sing like a canary" refer to?

It can refer to any kind of secret or confidential information, from personal gossip to high-stakes corporate or government secrets.

  • Is "sing like a canary" a modern phrase?

While its origins are older, it remains a relevant and commonly used expression in modern language.

  • How do I use "sing like a canary" in a sentence?

For instance: "After being cornered by the media, the politician began to sing like a canary about the scandal."

  • Are there any similar phrases in other languages?

Many languages have similar idioms that involve animals and talking, though the exact phrases and animals might differ.

Final Thoughts About "Sing Like a Canary"

The idiom "sing like a canary" is a vivid and expressive idiom that describes the act of revealing secrets or information. While often associated with negative connotations of betrayal or disloyalty, it can also be seen positively when used to expose wrongdoing or corruption.

To recap:

  • It is a metaphorical phrase referring to the act of divulging secrets or information.
  • While it can carry negative connotations, it can also be used positively in certain contexts.
  • Its usage extends across various settings, from everyday conversations to legal and criminal contexts.
  • The phrase remains relevant in modern language, showcasing the enduring nature of idiomatic expressions in English.

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