Make a clean breast of it and come clean

Photo of author


Make a clean breast of it and come clean are two idioms that mean the same thing but originated at two different times. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the meaning of the phrases make a clean breast of it and come clean, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

To make a clean breast of it means to confess to one’s mistakes or transgressions, to tell the truth about oneself. The term seems to have originated in Scotland. The first known use of the idiom make a clean breast of it in print occurred in The Scots Magazine, 1752: “He pressed him… to make a clean breast, and tell him all.” In this case, breast refers to the source of one’s emotions, not one’s physical breast.

To come clean means to confess one’s mistakes or transgressions. This idiom originated in the very early 1900s in the United States, probably as a shorthand version of the phrase make a clean breast of it.


He has said many times that he decided to disclose all he knew about the DDS, and his and the mayor’s involvement, because he wanted to make a clean breast of it all, atone for his errors and try turning a new leaf. (The Philippine Star)

Well, Poonam darling, if I decide to make a clean breast of it, I must confess that it seems you are not the only cow bound by the strings of matrimony. (The Daily News & Analysis)

“China must come clean about the ‘grotesque’ level of capital punishment,” Amnesty said in a news release accompanying its 2016 global review of the death penalty. (The Washington Post)

A TD has called on the DAA to come clean about its support for Norwegian’s new low-fares transatlantic services out of Ireland amid concerns about the future of its proposed Cork to New York route, writes Eoin English. (The Irish Examiner)