Tempest in a teapot
Tempest in a teapot (American English), or storm in a teacup (British English), is an idiom meaning a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion. There are also lesser known or earlier variants, such as tempest in a teacup, storm in a cream bowl, tempest in a glass of water, storm in a wash-hand basin, and storm in a glass of water.
Cicero, in the first century BC, in his De Legibus, used a similar phrase in Latin, possibly the precursor to the modern expressions, "Excitabat enim fluctus in simpulo ut dicitur Gratidius", translated: "For Gratidius raised a tempest in a ladle, as the saying is". Then in the early 3rd century AD, Athenaeus, in the Deipnosophistae, has Dorion ridiculing the description of a tempest in the Nautilus of Timotheus by saying that he had seen a more formidable storm in a boiling saucepan. The phrase also appeared in its French form "une tempete dans une verre d'eau" (a tempest in a glass of water), to refer to the popular uprising in the Republic of Geneva near the end of the 17th century.
One of the earliest occurrences in print of the modern version is in 1815, where Britain's Lord Chancellor Thurlow, sometime during his tenure of 1783-1792, is quoted as referring to a popular uprising on the Isle of Man as a "tempest in a teapot". Also Lord North, Prime Minister of Great Britain, is credited for popularizing this phrase as characterizing the outbreak of American colonists against the tax on tea. This sentiment was then satirized in Carl Guttenberg's 1778 engraving of the Tea-Tax Tempest (shown above right), where Father Time flashes a magic lantern picture of an exploding teapot to America on the left and Britannia on the right, with British and American forces advancing towards the teapot. Just a little later, in 1825, in the Scottish journal Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, a critical review of poets Hogg and Campbell also included the phrase "tempest in a teapot".
The first recorded instance of the British English version, "storm in teacup", occurs in Catherine Sinclair's Modern Accomplishments in 1838. There are several instances though of earlier British use of the similar phrase "storm in a wash-hand basin".
A similar phrase exists in numerous other languages:
- Arabic: زوبعة في فنجان (a storm in a cup)
- Bengali:তীলকে তাল করা (a storm in a cup)
- Bulgarian: Буря в чаша вода Burya v chasha voda (storm in a glass of water)
- Chinese: 茶杯裡的風波、茶壺裡的風暴 (winds and waves in a teacup; storm in a teapot)
- Czech: Bouře ve sklenici vody (a storm in a glass of water)
- Danish: En storm i et glas vand (a storm in a glass of water)
- Dutch: Een storm in een glas water (a storm in a glass of water)
- Esperanto: Granda frakaso en malgranda glaso (a large storm in a small glass)
- Estonian: Torm veeklaasis (storm in a glass of water)
- Finnish: Myrsky vesilasissa (storm in a glass of water)
- French: une tempête dans un verre d'eau (a storm in a glass of water)
- German: ein Sturm im Wasserglas (a storm in a glass of water)
- Greek: πνιγόμαστε σε μια κουταλιά νερό (to drown in a spoon of water)
- Hebrew: סערה בכוס תה Se'arah bekos teh (storm in a teacup)
- Hindi: तिल का ताड़ बनाना til ka taad banana (making a mountain out of rye)
- Hungarian: Vihar egy pohár vízben (a storm in a glass of water)
- Icelandic: Stormur í vatnsglasi (a storm in a glass of water)
- Italian: una tempesta in un bicchiere d'acqua (a storm in a glass of water)
- Japanese: コップの中の嵐 koppu no naka no arashi (a storm in a glass)
- Korean: 찻잔속의 태풍 chat jan sokui taepung (a typhoon in a teacup)
- Latin: Excitare fluctus in simpulo (to stir up waves in a ladle)
- Latvian: vētra ūdens glāzē (storm in a glass of water)
- Lithuanian: Audra stiklinėje (storm in a glass)
- Malayalam: chaya koppayile kodunkattu (storm in a tea cup) "ചായക്കോപ്പയിലെ കൊടുങ്കാറ്റ്"
- Norwegian: storm i et vannglass (bokmål) / storm i eit vassglas (nynorsk) (a storm in a glass of water)
- Polish: Burza w szklance wody (a storm in a glass of water)
- Portuguese: Tempestade em copo de água / Uma tempestade num copo de água (storm in a glass of water / a tempest in a glass of water)
- Romanian: Furtună într-un pahar cu apă (storm in a glass of water)
- Russian: Буря в стакане burya v stakane (a tempest in a glass)
- Spanish: Una tormenta en un vaso de agua (a storm in a glass of water)
- Swedish: Storm i ett vattenglas (storm in a glass of water)
- Tagalog: Bulaklak ng dila (flower of the tongue)
- Turkish: Bir kaşık suda fırtına (storm in a spoon of water)
- Telugu: Tea kappu lo thufaanu (storm in a tea cup)
- Tamil: Theneer koppaiyil puyal (storm in a tea cup)
- Ukrainian: Буря в склянці води / Buria v sklyantsi vody (a tempest in a glass of water)
- Yiddish: אַ שטורעם אין אַ גלאָז וואַסער / a shturem in a gloz vaser (a storm in a glass of water)
- Yiddish: אַ בורע אין אַ לעפֿל וואַסער / a bure in a lefl vaser (a squall in a spoon of water)
- Christine Ammer, The American Heritage dictionary of idioms, p. 647, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997 ISBN 0-395-72774-X, 9780395727744
- Reddall, Henry Frederic (1892). Fact, fancy, and fable: a new handbook for ready reference on subjects commonly omitted from cyclopaedias. A.C McClurg. p. 490.
- Bartlett, John (1891). Familiar quotations: a collection of passages, phrases, and proverbs traced to their sources in ancient and modern literature. Little, Brown, and company. p. 767.
- "Whence the phrase "a tempest in a teapot"?". Lippincott's monthly magazine: a popular journal of general literature 43. March 1889.
- Kett, Henry (1814). The flowers of wit, or, A choice collection of bon mots, both antient and modern, with biographical and critical remarks, Volume 2. Lackington, Allen, and co. p. 67.
- "A Tempest in a Teapot". Hartford Herald: 8. July 10, 1907.
- Blackwood, William (1825). "Scotch Poets, Hogg and Campbell". Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine 17: 112.
- "Tempest in a teapot". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
- Sinclair, Catherine (1836). Modern accomplishments ; or, The march of intellect. Waugh and Innes. p. 204.
- ""Storm in a wash-hand basin" (pre-1938)". Google Books search. Retrieved 7 January 2012.