Tempest in a teapot is a popular American/British idiom, but what is the meaning of tempest in a teapot?
It means a small event that has been overly exaggerated beyond proportion.
In British English, a tempest in a teapot is expressed as a storm in a teacup. There are lesser-known variations of the idiom such as a storm in a cream bowl, tempest in a teacup, storm in a wash-hand basin, tempest in a glass of water, storm in a glass of water, and many others. All these variations exists because there are different variations of the English language in different parts of the world.
Where Did the Phrase ‘Tempest In a Teapot’ Come From?
Although there are different variations of this expression or idiom in different places, the meaning remains the same. However, there are several points/instances in history that are linked with the origin of this term.
The first known use of the phrase is by Marcus Tullius Cicero back in 52BC, who in De Legibus, wrote: “…gratidius raised a tempest in a ladle.”
The imagery of combining weather element and a small utensil represents a minor event that is magnified out of proportion.
This idiom is applicable in many instances, and that’s why people have come up with their own variations.
You will find people talking about storms in cups as it is the case with Bengali and Arabic, while others refer it as storms in glasses of water (as it is the case with Dutch and French). Others use a smaller vessel, such as Yiddish who says squalls in spoons of water. Greek people say, drowns in a spoon of water.
Then, there are those who prefer using teacups, such as Korean and Tamil. Chinese uses winds and waves in teacups or storms in teapots.
However, the most popular usage of this idiom is by Britain and Americans. Britain uses storm in teacups, while Americans use tempest in teapots.
Which of These Idioms Came First?
It is difficult to tell which idiom came first (British idiom or American idiom) as the English language is their first language and has different variations.
As for when the English and American idioms versions originated, the earliest references to both idioms are found in Scotland;
“….A tempest in a teapot!” – Blackwood Magazine, 1825
“…It really is like raising a storm in a teacup.” – Modern Accomplishments written by Scottish novelist Catherine Sinclair, 1838
Why the Idiom took Different Suffixes?
As you can see, the idiom is taking different suffixes- a teapot, teacup, spoon, bowl, etc. The reason for this is because there are different variations of the English language and different people have different traditions.
For instance, British people used teacups because of their tradition in drinking tea.
Chinese people used teapots because they have a tradition of brewing tea in teapots. When it comes to tea, China is known for making the best teapots- majorly Yixing teapots. These teapots are made using clay sourced from the Yixing province in China. It is one of the major reasons they used teapot in this idiom since it relates well with what many people there already know.
In other words, everyone used what people in their origin could associate with easily. However, from the looks of things, it seems a lot of people liked tea, that’s why there is the usage of teaware in the idioms. And even today, people still do like tea and it is the 2nd most popular beverage, after water.
If you are a tea enthusiast, you can browse our collection of teaware sets and teapots we have in store for you;