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the edible nutritious seed of various plants of the legume family, especially of the genus Phaseolus.
a plant producing such seeds.
the pod of such a plant, especially when immature and eaten as a vegetable.
any of various other beanlike seeds or plants, as the coffee bean.

a person’s head.
a coin or a bank note considered as a coin:
I can’t pay for the ticket, I don’t have a bean in my jeans.

British Informal. a minimum amount of money:
They’ve been disinherited and now haven’t a bean.
beans, Informal. the slightest amount:
He doesn’t know beans about navigation.
Slang. to hit on the head, especially with a baseball.
beans, (used to express disbelief, annoyance, etc.).
full of beans, Informal.

energetic; vigorously active; vital:
He is still full of beans at 95.
stupid; erroneous; misinformed.

spill the beans, Informal. to disclose a secret, either accidentally or imprudently, thereby ruining a surprise or plan:
He spilled the beans, and she knew all about the party in advance.
Contemporary Examples

Before the FDA started cracking down, grocers might stretch your coffee with other kinds of beans, your flour with sawdust.
The Great Sushi Scam Megan McArdle April 3, 2013

Drain immediately and immerse the beans in ice water to stop the cooking.
The Barefoot Contessa’s Tasty Trip to Paris Ina Garten November 26, 2014

Immigrants and fears about disease go together like beans and rice.
At Least Two ‘Border Kids’ Have Swine Flu Ruben Navarrette Jr. July 1, 2014

Canned fruits and vegetables; peanut butter in plastic jars; beans, meat and other proteins; and hot and cold cereal.
Holiday Season Hunger: How to Help The Daily Beast November 17, 2009

Bring a big pot of water to the boil while you top and tail (trim) the beans.
Ham, Green Bean Casserole, Easy Trifle The Daily Beast December 22, 2008

Historical Examples

For example, one could purchase a “tolerably good slave” for 100 beans.
Cocoa and Chocolate Arthur W. Knapp

Some prefer it with the beans boiled soft, but not quite dissolved.
Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches Eliza Leslie

We got our beans boiled passably soft, after awhile, and being very hungry were able to eat a part of them, well salted.
When Life Was Young C. A. Stephens

You’ve got so you think that hay and bread and pork and beans are all men live and die for!
The Harbor Ernest Poole

She said, “beans have a large percentage of nutriment and should be more commonly used.”
Mary at the Farm and Book of Recipes Compiled during Her Visit among the “Pennsylvania Germans” Edith M. Thomas

any of various leguminous plants of the widely cultivated genus Phaseolus producing edible seeds in pods See French bean, lima bean, scarlet runner, string bean
any of several other leguminous plants that bear edible pods or seeds, such as the broad bean and soya bean
any of various other plants whose seeds are produced in pods or podlike fruits
the seed or pod of any of these plants
any of various beanlike seeds, such as coffee
(US & Canadian, slang) another word for head
(slang) cool beans, excellent; impressive
(slang) not have a bean, to be without money: I haven’t got a bean
(informal) full of beans

full of energy and vitality
(US) mistaken; erroneous

(informal) spill the beans, to disclose something confidential
(mainly US & Canadian, slang) (transitive) to hit (a person) on the head

Old English bean “bean, pea, legume,” from Proto-Germanic *bauno (cf. Old Norse baun, Middle Dutch bone, Dutch boon, Old High German bona, German Bohne), perhaps from a PIE reduplicated base *bha-bha- and related to Latin faba “bean.”

As a metaphor for “something of small value” it is attested from c.1300. Meaning “head” is U.S. baseball slang c.1905 (in bean-ball “a pitch thrown at the head”); thus slang verb bean meaning “to hit on the head,” attested from 1910.

The notion of lucky or magic beans in English folklore is from the exotic beans or large seeds that wash up occasionally in Cornwall and western Scotland, carried from the Caribbean or South America by the Gulf Stream. They were cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.

Slang bean-counter “accountant” recorded by 1971. To not know beans (American English, 1933) is perhaps from the “of little worth” sense, but may have a connection to colloquial expression recorded around Somerset, to know how many beans make five “be a clever fellow.”


An exclamation of disbelief or contempt (1900s+)


Nothing; a minimal amount; diddly: I wouldn’t give you beans for that idea/ She would get all of her famous friends to appear and pay them beans

Related Terms

full of beans, a hill of beans, know one’s onions, not know beans

[1830s+; A bean in this sense is attested fr the 1200s. Semantically the same as bubkes]

noun phrase

Something regarded as the most important element: the be-all and end-all of series finales

[1605; fr Shakespeare’s Macbeth, ”That but this blow Might be the be all, and the end all.”]

mentioned in 2 Sam. 17:28 as having been brought to David when flying from Absalom. They formed a constituent in the bread Ezekiel (4:9) was commanded to make, as they were in general much used as an article of diet. They are extensively cultivated in Egypt and Arabia and Syria.


full of beans
not have a bean
not know beans
not worth a dime (bean)
spill the beans
tough break (beans)


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