Did someone use the phrase 'not my cup of tea,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
‘Not my cup of tea’ is an idiom that expresses that something is not to the speaker’s taste. For example, someone could say that skiing is ‘not my cup of tea’ or Wes Anderson movies are ‘not my cup of tea.’
If someone says that something is their ‘cup of tea,’ it means it is something or someone they find pleasing. This is an idiom that, therefore, refers to one’s preference. Though you can use the positive version of the phrase, the more common usage is in the negative.
Let’s say that your best friend is going to a Taylor Swift concert and wants you to come along. If you want to express that it’s not really your type of music, you could say:
“No thanks, she’s ‘not my cup of tea.’
The phrase ‘my cup of tea’ and ‘not my cup of tea’ are among many other tea-related phrases that are commonly used in the UK and the English-speaking world.
The phrase ‘cup of tea’ became a synonym for acceptability in the early 20th century. This was so much the case that it was a nickname given to a favored friend, particularly one that had an energetic and boisterous nature.
The phrase shows up in the novel Somehow Good by the Edwardian artist and novels William de Morgan in 1908.
He describes the use of the phrase here:
“"He may be a bit hot-tempered and impulsive... otherwise, it's simply impossible to help liking him." To which Sally replied, borrowing an expression from Ann the housemaid, that Fenwick was a cup of tea. It was metaphorical and descriptive of invigoration.”
Around the 1930s, people started describing things they liked as ‘my cup of tea.’ This shows up in the comic novel Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford in 1932:
“I'm not at all sure I wouldn't rather marry Aunt Loudie. She's even more my cup of tea in many ways.”
Though historical references to this phrase typically used the positive form of the expression, ‘not my cup of tea’ is more common these days. The negative form started to be used during World War II, an example of which can be found in Leaves From a War Correspondent’s Notebook by Hal Boyle:
“[In England] You don't say someone gives you a pain in the neck. You just remark "He's not my cup of tea."”
The United Kingdom has been one of the world's largest tea consumers since the 18th century. Though it started out as a drink that was only enjoyed by the upper class, it gradually became a common drink enjoyed by all classes in the UK.
Tea is an important part of British culture and identity. Though a cup of tea might not seem like a big deal in the 21st century, it’s fascinating to consider that the rise in popularity of tea had major political, social, and economic implications between the 17th and 18th centuries. Tea supplied both calories for laborers and capital for factories during the rise of the Industrial Revolution, and tea was a central part of domestic rituals.
One of the first people to record the use of tea as a drink (referred to in this passage as ‘Chaa’) was Jan Huygen van Linschoten, a Dutch adventurer:
“The aforesaid warme water is made with the powder of a certaine hearbe called Chaa.”
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that this expression appears only to have become popular around the start of WWII. However, the positive version of ‘my cup of tea’ appears in texts starting at least in the early 1800s.
One example of this phrase can be found in Tullulah Bankhead’s autobiography from 1952:
“As a playwright, I have tremendous respect for her. As a person, she is not my cup of tea. I was still simmering over Miss Hellman’s deception three years later when I picked up a copy of Time.”
Another example appears in U.S. Congressional hearings from the Committee on Science and Astronautics in 1963:
“In fact, if anyone is able to suggest a way in which it could be improved, I am sure you would get a very receptive audience and find it received with very careful study. For my own part, as essentially an outsider, it is not my “cup of tea.” I am essentially an observer of how this is going. I find it very difficult to put my finger on this in any way as to how the competence of the effort could be improved.”
A third example appears in an issue of the magazine Motor Boating from 1961:
Forty-five minutes later the Coast Guard had not arrived. I began to get anxious. I also began to get sick. For me, skimming over the waves at high speed is one thing, wallowing around in swells is another– strictly not my cup of tea.”
How would this idiom be used in a sentence?
Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to this idiom?
Here are some options:
British people are well known for their love of tea. It’s, therefore, not surprising that there are lots of tea-related idioms in the English language.
Here are a few other examples to give you an idea of just how pervasive tea is as an element of idiomatic expressions:
‘Not my cup of tea’ is a British phrase that is commonly used in the English-speaking world. It is used to refer to something or someone that isn’t to the speaker’s liking. For example, if someone asks you why you don’t like ice cream, you could say,
“I don’t know. It’s just ‘not my cup of tea.’”
Idioms can be a great way to add diversity and color to your writing and speech. Incorporating commonly known idioms can help you express ideas in new and interesting ways.
Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!
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