When we talk about English idioms, you might think this is a little used or useless part of your English language learning. Something you will probably never come across. You would be wrong!
If you follow our podcasts and listen regularly, then you will know we focus our lessons on everyday English. The English being spoken right now by native British English speakers. We often hear something or say something in conversation and think “Now that is something a new English language learner would not understand…”
So in the UK right now we are swapping prime ministers, the top job in UK government is tough right now as the 67 million people who live in Britain are arguing over how we should leave our countries current membership of the European Union. As you can imagine there are arguments about how we should leave are many, and when they happen, they can be loud and angry, especially in parliament between MPs (Members of parliament).
So it was of no surprise to hear a news reporter on the BBC news talking about the English idiom “A storm in a teacup”.
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How about a funny English idiom today? Let me pick an idiom which is a bit colloquial. So colloquial C-O-L-L-O-Q-U-I-A-L. It means a phrase or an expression that’s used in spoken English, which is fairly informal, used with family and friends. Less likely to be something you see in a formal context.
So today, let’s talk about the meaning of the phrase ‘A storm in a teacup’’. I’ve picked this phrase, because like most English idioms, if you just take its literal meaning, you would wonder ‘What on earth does that mean?!’ There’s another idiom ‘What on earth?’
So ‘a storm in a teacup’. Vocabulary first of all? Well, the word ‘storm’, S-T-O-R-M is used in the context of talking about the weather. And of course, this is something which British people like to do – and there’s quite a lot to talk about because our weather here in the UK, is quite unpredictable, it’s variable. You don’t know what you’re going to get. So a storm means a weather front – a bank of cloud and rain and usually wind as well, is called a storm. And we get storms all the time, because we’re next to the Atlantic Ocean, and so our storms tend to come in from the west. Just this weekend, we had Storm Miguel, though I must say, it looks quite sunny through my window at the moment and I don’t remember anything dramatic. So maybe it missed us.
A photograph of a man holding a baby you cannot tell the gender of the baby. Used to help explain English grammar she, he and they.
Anyway, you get the idea – a storm is a band of bad weather, coming over the country. And a teacup? Well, if you think of that wonderful English tradition of drinking tea in the afternoon. A cup of tea is something we have quite a lot in the UK. So a teacup? It’s more of an old fashioned thing, a delicate version of a cup to drink your tea from. So a teacup would have a little handle and tend to come with a saucer – so that’s the matching part, that goes underneath, that you rest your teacup on – your saucer. So a saucer – it’s a bit like a plate, but smaller. If you have afternoon tea – that’s a real English, old fashioned tradition – the sort of thing that you could imagine perhaps Queen Victoria, or even our current Queen Elizabeth having tea. You might have nice cakes with your tea. Most of the time, we don’t actually use teacups with saucers in the UK. We do drink our tea out of mugs much of the time – so ‘mug’, M-U-G. A mug is like a teacup, but taller and has a greater capacity and it doesn’t have a saucer. So if you didn’t know the word mug, it’s worth learning that one.
Anyway, a storm in a teacup is the idiom. Clearly, you’re not going to get a real storm going on inside a teacup. So ‘a storm in a teacup’ isn’t literal. What we mean when we say something ‘was a storm in a teacup’ is it’s a situation where people got very emotional, it got very dramatic, but in the end, it wasn’t really very important. It wasn’t of great significance or importance. So actually….let me give you some examples to try and illustrate it. So some examples of the phrase ‘storm in a tea cup’.
So here some sentences which use the phrase. Why don’t you use these sentences to practice your pronunciation? I’ll repeat them and leave a space, so that you can say them after me.
- My mum and her sister had a massive row on Saturday. But by Monday, they were friends again, so it was all a storm in a teacup.
- The debate in parliament lasted four hours. But when the vote happened, nothing changed. It was (all) a storm in a teacup.
- The couple next door argue a lot, but it’s usually a storm in a teacup.
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Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.