Tea-related phrases - fit to a T

Posted by Bob on October 15, 2001

In Reply to: Tea-related phrases - fit to a T posted by James Briggs on October 15, 2001

: : : : I am looking for the meanings and/or origins of the following:

: : : : Tea for two and two for tea

: : : : A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down

: : : : A tempest in a teapot
: : : :
: : : : As useless as a chocolate teapot

: : : : Born with a silver spoon in his mouth

: : : : Fit to a T

: : : : Not for all the tea in China

: : : : Not my cup of tea

: : : : Suits you down to a tee

: : : : The cup that cheers

: : : : There's many a slip twixt cup and lip

: : : : Wake up and smell the coffee

: : : : It's not worth crying over spilt milk

: : : "Tea for two and two for tea": Title of song popular in early 20th century.

: : : "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down": Song from the film "Mary Poppins," 1964.

: : : "The cup that cheers but does not inebriate": Slogan promoting tea as an alternative to alcohol, mid-19th century; associated with the temperance movement.

: : BORN WITH A SILVER SPOON IN HIS MOUTH -- "He got his wealth by inheritance rather than by working for it. It is an old tradition for godparents to give their godchild a spoon (perhaps more than one) at the time of christening; among the wealthy; it was usually a silver spoon. Sometimes it was a set of 12, each with the figure of a different apostle at the upper end of the handle, hence the term, apostle spoons. Presumably a child receiving silver spoons was from a wealthy family and would not have to worry about money. Cervantes in 'Don Quixote' reminds us that it is not so with everybody: 'Every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.'" From The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

: If something "fits to a T" then it's perfect for its purpose. The allusion here is said to be with a T square. This piece of apparatus is so accurate that a precise right angle fits it perfectly.
: However neat this suggestion is, there is another possible origin, based on the fact that the saying was in use in the 17th century, before the T square was invented. This one suggests that the T stands for "Title", a minute and precisely positioned pen stroke or printer's mark. A tiny brushstroke was all that distinguished the Hebrew letter "dalet" from "resh". "Title" was the word chosen by Wycliffe to translate references to this tiny difference in his version of the New Testament. Thus the mark was perfectly suited to its task.

Can the T-square actually be younger than the 17th century? It seems like such a simple and essential design tool, it's hard to imagine daVinci without one.

See also: the meaning and origin of the phrase 'To a T'.