In our daily lives, there is so much gossip that goes around. Sometimes we hear things that may or may not be juicy news. Sometimes there’s just nothing that keys us into the news delivered to us by our friends, but with one single word, or letter depending on who you ask, ears perk up and heads turn.
The phrase “spill the tea” has taken the internet by storm in the past decade as a multifaceted meme. Spill the tea, according to the first definition published in Urban Dictionary, means “gossip or personal information belonging to someone else; the scoop; the news.”
The term, in its purest form, is used for gossip and to indicate that yours is the juiciest of news. Twitter has become an especially fertile breeding ground for tea, with tweets containing phrases like “Give me the tea,” “where’s the tea,” and “spill that tea” popping up around events like the Jussie Smollett verdict and the release of the Mueller Report. Tea has also been attached in popular use to a meme of Kermit the frog sipping a Lipton tea, and tweeted with the hashtag “butthatsnoneofmybusiness.”
Beyond a meme of legendary status, the phrase has much deeper roots than the 21st century. One origin theory held by many is that women in the during the 18th and early 19th century would sit on their front porches and gossip while drinking tea, but this teaory has very little tea to it.
According to Merriam-Webster, the phrase originated in drag culture, but had little to do with the actual drink. One of the first known uses of the phrase was in a nonfiction novel called “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt, published in 1994. In the novel, Bernendt interviews a drag queen who says “My T. My thing, my business, what’s goin’ on in my life.” The phrase spread from there and began to take hold in the internet age of the 21st century.
The phrase became widely known through multiple media mediums. The comedian Larry Wilmore used the phrase on The Nightly Show, saying “Weak tea” to call out someone for lying. Tea is used as interchangeably with “T” on Rupaul’s Drag Race.
Tea has entered into our daily lingo, eclipsing the word gossip almost entirely. And that’s the tea.