A storm in a teacup

Example in use: “We had a big problem yesterday when a customer complained to the CEO directly about our technician arriving late to an appointment. Of course, we all ran around investigating the problem because the CEO thought that there must something wrong with our service scheduling. In the end, it turned out that a single technician had had a problem with his van which was the reason he was late. What a storm in a teacup!”

Meaning: a small event or occurrence which has been exaggerated out of proportion as it if were really more important than it really was

Possible German equivalent: ein Sturm im Wasserglas

Possible origin: The expression, “a storm in a teacup” (British English) or “a tempest in a teapot” (American English) may have its roots as far back in history as Cicero’s time in the first century BC when he used a Latin expression which can be translated as “a tempest in a ladle”.

It is thought that it was used in English for the fist time as far back as 1678 when the Duke of Ormond wrote to the Earl of Arlington, “Our skirmish seems to be (….) but a storm in a cream bowl”. However, it took until 1838 for the phrase we know today, “a storm in a teacup” to be recorded in print by Catherine Sinclair, a Scottish novelist.

In fact, it would appear that many languages and cultures have their own versions of this idiom, almost all of which are similar to the meanings in the English or German versions above involving storms, water, glasses and cups. In fact, a search on Wikipedia brought up 39 different versions of this idiom in languages from Arabic to Yiddish!

It would appear that wherever you are in the world, the need for an idiom to mean something being exaggerated to make it appear more dramatic than it really is, appears to be a universal concept.

teacup / ˈtiː.kʌp


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.