The meaning of, and background to, the well-known expression "It's not my cup of tea.

Well-Known Expressions

It's not my cup of tea

Meaning:

I don't like it; it's not to my taste. Can be used in a variety of ways, such as in reference to activities (skiing isn't my cup of tea) or people (he's not my cup of tea).

Background:

Unsurprisingly, this expression originates in Britain in the first half of the 20th century. But long before that, at least as far back as the mid 18th century, the affirmative version was in use. In fact, according to phrases.org.uk, "cup of tea" was such a synonym for acceptability that it became the name given to a favored friend, especially one of ebuliant nature. From the use of it in William de Morgan's 1908 novel Somehow Good, it can be assumed that the expression started as one used by the working class:

"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.

By 1932, Nancy Mitford clearly felt able to use the expression in her comic novel Christmas Pudding, without need of explanation:

I'm not at all sure I wouldn't rather marry Aunt Loudie. She's even more my cup of tea in many ways.

According to Gregory Titelman's America's Popular Proverbs and Sayings, the negative form has been in use since about the 1920s, but it appears to have caught on during the 1940s during World War II. One can't help wondering if this was due to the many Americans in Britain who likely found the nation's favorite beverage not to their taste!

In 1944, Hal Boyle wrote in his syndicated column, Leaves From a War Correspondent's Notebook that in England, "You don't say someone gives you a pain in the neck. You just remark 'He's not my cup of tea.'"

Alphabetical list of expressions

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...
  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...
  • Book Jacket: Toms River
    Toms River
    by Dan Fagin
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction

    In Toms River, investigative journalist Dan Fagin ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Who Said...

Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.