25th
Sep
2013

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Having considered chocolate's inspiration for phrases that have become embedded in our everyday language a few weeks ago, I thought it would be interesting to see if our national drink, the cup of tea, has had a similar influence:

  • not my cup of tea – It turns out that while we tend to use this metaphor in the negative these days, it was used in the positive at first. Certainly by the 1930s it appears to have gained common usage as a way of conveying your approval for someone/ something. The fact that over time its use has moved towards an expression of dislike/ disapproval might be attributed to our nation's inclination to cynicism over enthusiasm!
  • a storm in a teacup – It seems that this metaphor for a big fuss about very little has a great many synonyms. A tempest in a teapot, or to take an example from an 1830 magazine, a storm in a wash-hand basin. For the Dutch it's a storm in a glass of water. It seems likely that the rise in the popularity of tea in Britain influenced the choice of container for the storm.
  • not for all the tea in China – There appears to be some uncertainty as to whether this expression first cropped up as colloquial Australian in the late nineteenth century or if Walter Scott was the first to utilise the phrase with a line in his 1817 novel 'Rob Roy'. Given the prevalence of tea around the world by the 1800s and the common knowledge that China produced a lot of it, it seems likely that the phrase originated independently in many places.
  • More tea vicar? – this quintessentially British way of shifting attention away from an embarrassing moment reminds us that clergymen have drunk an awful lot of tea while out visiting their parishioners down through the years. Its shift from genuine enquiry to cover up probably gained momentum from its use in sitcoms.

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