Coin That Phrase: "Tempest in a Teapot"

Ever wondered why someone says “that’s just a tempest in a teapot” over an event that has nothing to do with tea? This expression is often a response to an overblown situation.

The expression “a storm in a teacup” is believed to derive from a passage in De Legibus written by Cicero, a renowned Roman philosopher, and writer who influenced future Latin prose. His “excitable fluctus in simpulo” translates to “he was stirring up billows in a ladle.”

Many cultures since then have adopted this phrase. For instance, the Dutch interpretation is “a storm in a glass of water;” the Hungarian version is “a tempest in a potty.” The United States, along with other countries, associate more with the teapot phrase which has morphed into “a tempest in a teapot.” In England, “a storm in a teacup” is viewed as a more proper original version.

While distinct variations exist from nation to nation, the idiom’s first use, on record after Cicero, dates back to the late 17th century. Although the first use of this expression did not make any reference to tea-making, a letter written by The Duke of Ormond to the Earl of Arlington in 1678 mentioned, “a storm in a cream bowl.” From that moment, it has been rephrased and modified into dozens of iterations that are well-known today.

While this idiom is a unique phrase to laugh about with friends, it is useful to have first-hand knowledge of its origin. Next time a person says “a tempest in a teapot,” remember that the way it came to be has a complex history.

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