Q From Susan G McManus: Where does tempest in a teapot come from?
A I’m not familiar with that American version. If I wanted to express the same idea, I’d say it was a storm in a teacup, which is the common British equivalent. Either way, it’s a delightful phrase for a fuss about nothing very much, or a dispute of only minor or local importance.
These two forms are by no means the only ones. The big Oxford English Dictionary has examples of a storm in a cream bowl and a storm in a wash-hand basin, and suggests that there were others. All have this idea of a violent disturbance in a small compass, by implication therefore one of little significance. The alliteration of tempest in a teapot must have helped its acceptance.
Of the two best-known versions tempest in a teapot seems to be the older, since I’ve found an example from a long-defunct journal called The United States Democratic Review of January 1838 about the Supreme Court: “This collegiate tempest in a teapot might serve for the lads of the University to moot; but, surely, was unworthy the solemn adjudication attempted for it”.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added or updated
Worry wart; Punch list; Verbigeration; Heliotrope; Ditty bag; E30; Old fogey; Ampersand; Phizzog; Horse creature; Get one’s goat; Mammock; Mx; Stepney; Vape; No names, no pack drill; Bridegroom; Lilly-low.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!