Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1749’

Tempest In A Teacup

Posted by Admin on April 28, 2016

When a very small event or situation is made out to be much more than what it is, don’t be surprised if someone mentions it’s a tempest or a storm in a teacup or a teapot.  Over the decades, many have said this when a huge commotion over an unimportant matter has happened.

Just last week, on April 22, 2016, the American Thinker website published an article by David Solway titled, “Distrust Yourself Before You Distrust The Candidate.”  The substance of the article had to do with how political candidates have their public profiles created to fit the demands of the voting public to which they wish to appeal.  The writer made several excellent points, including this one which included the idiom.

The Michelle Fields controversy is an excellent example of how the media and the pundits have inflated a tempest in a teacup to tsunami proportions.

When English writer, literary historian, scholar, critic, and wine connoisseur, George Saintsbury (23 October 1845 – 28 January 1933) published “A History of the French Novel (to the Close of the 19th Century), Volume I” in 1917, he included tempest in a teacup in Chapter XII which discussed minor and later novelists circa 1800 with specific reference to Jane Austen’s novels.

All the resources of typography — exclamations, points, dashes — have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things.  Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous.

The July 1903 edition of “Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present: Volume VII, Part I” compiled by John Stephen Farmer (7 March 1854 – 1916) included this definition for the idiom.

Storm (or tempest) in a teacup (or teapot) subs. phr. (common) – Much ado about nothing: cd. ‘a tide and flood thought it be but in a basin of water’

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The entry attributed the basin of water quote to the “Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris” by English scholar, critic, and theologian, Richard Bentley (27 January 1662 – 14 July 1742) published in 1699.

In Volume 8 of “The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter” published on in London on October 29, 1864 included an article on the subject of the alleged bankruptcy irregularities in Birmingham.  The question arose as a result of a news article that had been published in the Birmingham Daily Post.

If the alleged malpractices at Birmingham and elsewhere resolve themselves into a disputed question of law, we would like to ask those who have raised this “tempest in a teacup” whether they propose that any, and what, compensation should be awarded, and from what fund, to those who have now for some months been suffering under unjust imputations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary puts the first known use of tempest in a teapot to 1838 without attribution.  In researching the expression, Idiomation was able to find even earlier published versions of tempest in a teapot.

On August 30, 1820 the Connecticut Gazette ran an anecdote from the late British lawyer and politician, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow (9 December 1731 – 12 September 1806) who was Lord Chancellor from 1783 to 1792.  The anecdote was about an alleged calamity to Britain that was to have dire effects on the Church and State.  When it was revealed where this calamity was happening, the punchline was,”A tempest in a tea-pot.”  The anecdote is one that was published even earlier, in 1815 in “The Flowers of Wit, or A Choice Collection of Bon Mots Both Antient and Modern: Volume I.”  Based on this, the expression was understood in 1815, and the anecdote was most likely crafted during Baron Thurlow’s decade as Lord Chancellor, putting this to the mid 1780s.

The practice of drinking tea was introduced in England in 1644, after being the practice in France the previous decade, with the Dutch being the chief importers of tea leaves in the 1610s.  The word tea-cup came into vogue in 1700, so it’s safe to assume that the idiom tempest in a teacup didn’t exist before 1700.

There was the sense of the saying published in Volume 27 of “The Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library” published in 1749 where the following was written.

When Holdernesse revealed it to him, Pitt affected to believe that Newcastle was trying to negotiate behind his back: a teapot tempest brewed, despite Newcastle’s asseverations that he regarded it as but a jest.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the exact phrase tempest in a teacup earlier than the 1815 reference.  However, between the spirit of the idiom being used in the 1749 document and the anecdote dating back to the 1780s, Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to the 1760s — halfway between 1749 and 1783.

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In The Dark

Posted by Admin on June 27, 2011

If you’re in the dark about something, you haven’t any idea what’s going on with regards to that particular matter.  Very recently, the media reported on Operation Osama and how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept the covert operation to capture Osama bin Laden a secret from everyone including her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.  Many media outlets reported in part:

Recalling how he was kept in the dark by his wife who was privy to the secret moves, Bill Clinton said his calls to the Secretary of State went unreturned that fateful day.  “I placed two calls to my wife on that day, and all I was told is, ‘She’s at the White House and can’t talk to you,'” Clinton said in an interview to CNBC.

In the October 12, 1960 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, a news story entitled, “Whistling In The Dark At The United Nations” reported on comments made by the leader of the U.S.S.R., Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) who stated that some day in the future the U.S. would be a minority in the United Nations.   The news story also had this to say about other countries involved with the U.N.:

The fate of the neutrals’ motion put forward by Mr. Nehru shows that they can at present influence U.N. affairs positively only by obtaining help from East and West, presumably at a price.  For its part, the West is still smarting from the massive vote against our Mr. Menzies’ motion; and it can take small comfort from its temporary victory on the Chinese subject.  Mr. Wadsworth, hailing the victory, is whistling in the dark, too.

On June 18, 1900 the Baltimore Morning Herald published a news article that stated that not one Cabinet in Europe knew what had transpired in Pekin for 5 days and in Tien Tsin for 3 days.  No one knew that Baron Von Ketteler, German Minister at Pekin had been murdered.  There was no knowledge of the 5,000 rioters at Kwei Hsien in the Prefecture of Canton.  No one was aware that the foreign Consuls at Shanghai, the members of the Municipal Council and the officers of the volunteer forces had adopted a plan in the event it was necessary to defend themselves to the death against the local Chinese.  The news story was entitled quite simply:

All In The Dark

Morgan Peter Kavanagh (1800 – 1874) wrote and published a book in 1871 entitled, “Origin of Language And Myths, Volume II” in which he wrote on page 417:

This knowledge would have even prevented him from transmitting to other grammarians and other times his very imperfect view of the nature of adjectives and pronouns.  But in respect to these hitherto inexplicable points in grammar, Professor Latham does not appear to have been more in the dark than any of his predecessors.

Going back to 1848, a book was published that contained details about court cases in 1845 entitled “Reports Of Cases In Chancery, Argued And Determined In The Rolls Court During The Time Of Lord Langdale, Master Of The Rolls: Volume IX” by Charles Beavan, Esq., M.A., Barrister At Law.  The following is found on page 535:

Now, from that time, August 1811, down to 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, there was not one word about this claim.  Did the solicitor take the advice of counsel or not?  Was that advice adverse to the claim or not? or was it this: “Wait till the Master makes his report, and then except to it.”  All this is left entirely in the dark; but in 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, and notice had been given to the creditors to attend on settling it, the persons who now represent Young, appear before the Master and state a new case; they request him to take into consideration the interest of this sum, and also the costs, and to come to the conclusion that the principal and interest and costs are the amount of damages sustained.

In a letter dated January 23, 1829 from James Madison  (1751–  1836) to Virgina Senator William C. Rives, the following was written:

I am still in the dark as to the ground of the statement that makes Mr. Jefferson and me parties to the publication in 1801, signed, “The danger not over.”  Have you noticed in Niles’ Register of the 17th instant, page 380, an extract from an address in 1808, signed, among others, by our friend Mr. Ritchie, wishing Congress to encourage our own manufactures by higher duties on foreign, even if the present attack on our commerce should blow over, that we may be the less dependent?

In 1749, Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) wrote in a letter to John Franklin that when it came to considering the nature of light, starting with the assertion by Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) that light resulted from moving corpuscles, he was “much in the dark about light.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression “in the dark” in this context and based on how the expression was used by Benjamin Franklin, Idiomation suspects that this is the first example of using the expression “in the dark” to mean the speaker had no idea what was going on with regards to the matter at hand.

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Kettle Of Fish

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2010

In Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811, he defined the phrase “kettle of fish” as meaning:

When a person has perplexed his affairs in general, or any particular business, he is said to have made a fine kettle of fish of  it.

Before this, however, the phrase was very much in use by various authors.  In Salmagundi, the  1807 satirical work by Washington Irving, his brother William Irving and James Kirke Paulding we find the following:

The doctor … has employed himself … in stewing up many a woful kettle of fish.

For those who enjoy trivia,  Salmagundi is best remembered for popularizing the sobriquet Gotham for New York City which has endured over the generations through to modern times.

Joseph Andrews — or The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams — was the first full-length novel by English author and magistrate Henry Fielding.  It was published in 1742 and told the story of a good-natured footman’s adventures on the road home from London with his friend and mentor, the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams. In the novel, Fielding wrote:

Here’s a pretty kettle of fish,’ cries Mrs. Tow-wouse.

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling also written by Fielding was published in 1749 and in that novel he wrote:

Fine doings at my house! A rare kettle of fish I have discovered at last.

The Random House and Webster dictionaries give the origin of the phrase “kettle of fish” to England in 1735 however there is no source given as to where this reference can be found.

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