A Little Tea and Gossip, Robert Payton Reid, 1859
Cream Tea Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
The Auld Blether
Today is International Cream Tea Day! Time for tea and gossip and talking nonsense, the auld blether. Blether, a variant of the word blather is from the Old Norse blathra, from a word for nonsense.
In colloquial terms, the word blether means a lengthy chat between friends. When applied to a person, blether is also a term for a gossip, a chatterbox, or someone who talks a lot of nonsense. A bletherer can also be someone who is prone to boasting and exaggeration. With roots as far back as the 15th century, blether has featured regularly in Scottish literature.
Sexist or not, and ignoring the fact that men gossip as much as women (according to a recent study) almost from the time tea was popularized in Britain in the 1600s, tea drinking has been synonymous with female blether and tittle-tattle!
Old dictionaries of English slang provide colourful proof of this association, especially Francis Grose's 1785 opus, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Tea has numerous entries in Grose's dictionary. Among other things, it is called "prattle broth," "chatter broth," "scandal broth," and "cat lap."
A year after Grose's dictionary was published, a variation of the term "scandal broth" appeared in Scotsman Robert Burns' poem, The Twa Dogs: A Tale, in a stanza parodying society ladies who pretend to be as gracious as sisters, but think spiteful thoughts as they "sip the scandal-potion pretty."
For a video of the dance from RSCDS Sheffield, see below.
And for more on the association of tea with "delightful gossip" (including many more vulgar terms than mentioned here), click the painting of Afternoon Tea for Three by Frederic Soulacroix (1858 -1933).
As US President Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice Alice Roosevelt Longworth famously quipped, “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.”