Tim Bowen reveals a set of collocations that is equally dark, sinister and shocking!

Stories of secret affairs between celebrities often feature in the news. The celebrities’ names are often a closely-guarded secret (not told to anyone) for some time, reinforced by a legal injunction preventing the publication of their names. However, their identities are often an open secret (widely known), however, mainly thanks to social networking sites.

Secrets can also concern very personal matters, in which case they are innermost or intimate, as in ‘Our unconscious world has the power to reveal our innermost secrets’. Secrets may also involve bad or illegal behaviour, in which case they can be described as dark, dirty, guilty, shameful, shocking, sinister or sordid, as in ‘This has been the west’s dirty little secret ever since President Roosevelt’s time’. 

A number of verbs are used with secret. ’It was the Internet that revealed the celebrities’ secret’ and other verbs that can be used to mean ‘tell someone a secret’ include betray, disclose, divulge, leak and let slip. A secret can also be discovered, of course, and other verbs that can be used here include find out, learn, uncover, unearth and unlock, as in ‘While researching our family history, I unearthed a dark secret’. The celebrities attempted to bury their secret by using the courts to prevent their names being published in the newspapers. Other verbs that can be used in a similar way include conceal, guard, harbour, hide and keep, as in ‘For many years she harboured a guilty secret’.