Tea-related phrases - fit to a T

Posted by ESC on October 16, 2001

In Reply to: Tea-related phrases - fit to a T posted by Bob 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.

: : 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.

ALL THE TEA IN CHINA - "All the tea in China would be nearly 600,000 tons, according to the 1985 estimates of the United States Department of Agriculture. It may be an Americanism, but this expression denoting a great sum probably is of British origin and over a century old, The trouble is that no one has been able to authoritatively pin it down." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

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). "The earliest spoons were made of wood, the word 'spoon,' in fact, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon 'spon,' 'a chip of wood.' Until the last century most people used pewter spoons, but traditionally, especially among the wealthy, godparents have given the gift of a silver spoon to their godchildren at christening ceremonies. The custom is centuries old throughout Europe." From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). "Every man is not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Not everybody is born to wealth. A silver spoon is a traditional gift given by godparents when the baby is born; not everybody can afford a silver spoon. The proverb is in Peter Motteux's translation of Cervantes' 'Don Quixote' (1605-15). First attested in the United States in the 'Adams Family Correspondence' . The proverb is found in varying forms: Every man is not born with a silver spoon, let alone a gold one; A lot of people were born with silver spoons in their mouths.State Treasurer Ann Richards of Texas in a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 1988 humorously changed the proverb by suggesting that George Bush was 'born with a silver foot in his mouth.'." From Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

TEMPEST IN A TEA POT - "This saying for 'making a big fuss over a trifle,' was first a 'a tempest in a teacup.' It has been traced back only to 1857, but is probably older. Similar early English sayings were 'storm in a wash basin' and 'a storm in a cream bowl' . For that matter Cicero, as far back as 400 B.C., referred to a contemporary who 'stirred up waves in a wine ladle,' and he indicated that the expression was ancient." Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

THERE'S MANY A SLIP BETWEEN (THE) CUP AND (THE) LIP - "Nothing is certain until the action is finished. The proverb is similar to several classical variants by Cato the Elder and Palladas; it has been traced back in English to the 1539 'Proverbs of Erasmus' by R. Taverner. It was first attested in the United States in the 1758 'Writings of George Washington.' The old for 'twixt' or betwixt' (between) is still used." From the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996). A second reference says, "This proverb is generally said to have originated with the ancient Greek story of Ancaeus, son of Neptune. As the story went, Ancaeus was planting a vineyard when a seer predicted he would not live long enough to drink the wine. Much later, as he was about to taste the first wine from his now prosperous vineyard, Ancaeus mocked the prophecy and raised the cup of wine to his lips. But before he could drink, word came that a wild boar was loose in the vineyard. Ancaeus immediately set out to kill the animal, but in the fray was himself set upon and killed by the boar, thus fulfilling the prophecy. Alluding to just such a circumstance, the Roman statesman Marcus Cato wrote (c.175 B.C.), Many things may come between the mouth and the Morsel.'.Virtually the modern version, 'there's many a slip 'Twixt the cup and the lip,' was quoted for the first time in 'The Ingoldsby Legends' by Richard H. Barham, and the saying was later adapted by, among others, James Joyce (1922, Ulysses). ." From Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New; by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

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