The Origin of “Not My Cup of Tea”: From England to the Projects

A friend of mine (well, she’s not a friend actually; she’s someone I’m forced to work with for eight hours a day, seven days a week. We don’t talk much unless we’re locked in a staff meeting together for almost two hours and are required to give a shit about what the other thinks) hails from Cuba and often asks me (when there’s no one else or better to talk to) the meaning of some American figures of speech.  Usually I’m able to muster up some generic response or something clever enough to keep her quiet until the next time she has nothing better to do but converse with me, but today her question had me stumped. She asked: “Why do you guys say, ‘Not my cup of tea?’ I know what the saying means, but where did it come from?’”

My first inclination was to reply with an ever-clever, “How the hell should I know?” However it can not go unsaid that her question, as random as it was, was profound enough to leave me speechless, not merely because of my surprise that she broke her routine pattern of only talking to me when her own shadow faded, but because I thought it was a damn good question. Why not “Not my cup of kool-aid,” or “Not my cup of Tang”?

So I did some digging. My discoveries answered my question of why kool-aid and tang were not the words chosen to center the figure of speech. How so? I’m glad you asked. The answer is simple – because the expression “not my cup of tea” is British-born and not birthed in the District of Columbia’s Barry Farms Projects.

‘Not my cup of tea’ derived from some old ass Englishman who loved tea as much as armadillos love ants. Only in its original use the phrase was “…cup of tea” (sans the word not) which was synonymous for acceptability or a metaphorical and descriptive of ‘nice’, ‘good’ or ‘invigorating,’ obviously because in Britain, tea is to them what pot is to those District of Columbia Barry Farms Projects residents I mentioned earlier…but you didn’t hear that from me.

It wasn’t until WWII that some US shell-shocked soldier stole the expression from the Brits and put his own negative spin on it (big surprise), transforming “…cup of tea” into the negative “not my cup of tea”, which today means “Nah bitch, I don’t like that.”

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Quote of the Week:  “If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the UP button.”

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