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  • Paul Anthony Jones

Storm in a teacup

(n., phr.) a great fuss over something of ultimately very little importance

kettle of hot water being poured into a teacup containing leaves

If you’re following HH on Instagram these days, you might have spotted the fact this week that the expression storm in a teacup was originally “storm in a cream bowl”:

And in fact, that’s just the tip of a particularly stormy iceberg.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest record of a storm in a teacup dates from 1872—but there’s mention of a “storm in a cream bowl” dating from as far back as 1678.

From the years in between, a whole host of “storms” proverbially contained inside an array of vessels and utensils have been recorded, ranging from a “storm in a wash-hand basin” in 1830 to a “storm in a puddle” in 1870. But even after the first storm in a teacup appeared in 1872, things took a long time to standardize: as late as in 1878, the English historian James Anthony Froude wrote of a proverbial “storm in a slop-basin”.

So why did the teacup form become the most popular? Perhaps it was its simplicity, or its familiarity (certainly compared to a slop-basin).

But realistically, this is just one of those questions that’s all but impossible to answer...


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