The Editors Strike Back—Replies to Cobb’s Reply to Schomski—The SpecGram Editorial Board SpecGram Vol CLXXIII, No 2 Contents The Origin of the Modern Pronunciation of “Tea”—H.D. Onesimus

27 Things Linguists Didn’t Know About Tea
Number 12 Made Me Cringe!

Bas Fête

  1. The Chinese letter for tea, 茶, is a combination of the letter 艸, meaning “grass”, and the letter 余, meaning “surplus”. Hence, tea was originally made from leftover grassbasically, lawn clippings. That’s why maté tastes the way it does!

  2. The tea brewing customs of linguists have been the subject of intense scrutiny. The earliest structural approaches depended crucially on the distinction between hot and cold water, but when Chomsky and Halle threw out the phoneme, linguists relied for many years on cobbled-together approaches such as Lexical-Functional Grey, Lapsong Syntchong, and Optimali-Tea, most of which seemed internally inconsistent (at best) and heartily contradictory (at worst). The situation is no better since the advent of Minimalism, which most non-generativists accuse of simply conflating tea with plain water at some abstract level.

  3. Tea is a drink of great linguistic significance, so much so that Chapter 138 of the World Atlas of Linguistic Structures is dedicated to its etymology. Mere coffee attains no such dignity. Now, who fancies a brew?

  4. Nothing is more refreshing than a 32 oz. glass of cool, deeply sweetened Southern Iced /t/ with a sprig of fresh mint. But before that refreshingly cool concoction reaches the oil cloth in your favorite restaurant, it is desirable to reflect on Southern /t/’s other uses, both household and industrial. Like coke it can be used to clean your windshield at the beach. Whisk carefully with a clean dry cloth until salt, sand, and suntan oil have all been removed and the glass is sparkling clean and dry. Refill and apply to the wiper blades. Did you burn some BBQ sauce in your favorite pan? No problem. After an overnight soak, Southern /t/ has just enough grit to scour loosened, char-burned sugar away in minutesnot recommended for aluminum. As a pet-bath, it can’t be beat! Put some in the bird bath to brighten your feathered friends’ plumage to neon splendor. A few drops in a bucket of water provide a season’s worth of flea protection and what’s left over can be sprinkled liberally in the attic to kill silverfish. It’s long been known that Southern /t/ is used in the cold chamber die casting process. You know that Techtronic® stuff in your gasoline? Straight Southern /t/hot or cold. Yes, its uses are myriad, but none is more appreciated than its ability to ward off migraines. So, the next time you’re in Georgia, don’t be afraid to order refills of your favorite sweetened Southern Iced /t/.1

  5. The most famous linguist in the area of tea brewing is Deborah Tannin, whose work has added color to an otherwise drab field.

  6. In 1746, King Frederick of Sweden, tired of the excessive consumption of tea and coffee in his kingdom, levied heavy taxes on the leaves and beans. This caused uprisings among peasant Finns in Eastern Sweden, because, while they were too poor to afford the luxury of tee ‘tea’, they felt that they were being overworked, and demanded similar taxes on their employers for telling them what to tee! ‘Do!’.

  7. Tea was an important element in the financial underpinnings of the British empire. Indeed, the British imposed customs duties on tea in 1767 to raise revenue that were an almost universal success and remained on the books until 1861!

  8. Even though char is common British slang for tea (the ‘r’ is only produced as a lengthening of the preceding vowel, even in rhotic areas), the word charlady, meaning ‘cleaning lady’, is not related to the drinking habits, which surely form part of their duties, but reflects the origin in chore lady. The forms chairman, and chairperson are, of course, also attested.

  9. The well-known acronym-derived term “posh”which once stood for traveling “Port Out, Starboard Home” on steamshipsis a degenerative form of an older acronym, POHTSHwhich includes very posh “High Tea” at the destination.

  10. The “correct” form of tea in China has changed over time. Prior to the Ming Dynasty, tea was made from less aromatic and hardier polysynthetic tea bricks. During the Ming Dynasty, a shift was made to more aromatic isolating loose tea, paralleling the development of Chinese into an isolating language. This aromaticalization cycle continues today with the development of somewhat less aromatic fusional tea bags in America. Experts believe this foreshadows and parallels further divergence between British and American variations in tea consumption.

  11. Tea is so important to the British that they have more words for kinds of tea than Eskimos have for kinds of snow!

  12. Tea prescriptivists will claim that there are correct and incorrect ways to perform a tea ceremony, and many tea ceremonies and practices are corruptions of purer ones. Note that tea prescriptivists usually believe that their own tea practices are the most pure. Tea descriptivists on the other hand believe that all tea ceremonies are appropriate and socially, emotionally, and libationally significant for the groups that perform them, and none are inherently better than others.

  13. Although tea was not as popular a success in France upon its introduction in 1636 as it was in other European countries, its cultural significance is nonetheless profound: The French word théâtre derives from thé ‘tea’ + âtre ‘hearth, atrium,’ attesting to the important role of French tea houses in the spread of classical French drama.

  14. Paradoxically, tea can condition progressive voicing, a fact which increases its frequency among speakers with xerigenic dysphonia.

  15. British findings that rats can better navigate mazes with tea intersections have yet to be replicated in the U.S. or Australia.

  16. The French clothing term chemise is seldom acknowledged as having its initial syllable from chai, probably because the further lenition that led to the English chief/chef borrowing doublet has obscured it; hence the sad lack of any connection in popular consciousness with the better-known t-shirt.

  17. There are reports that there are still a few small towns in the Ozarks and the Appalachians whose residents continue to prepare tea in exactly the way it was done in Elizabethan Englanduncorrupted by the changes that have occurred in the wider world during the intervening centuries.

  18. While English has gone further than most other Western European languages in losing its T-forms (cf. EME thou), English editors are prone to compensate by demanding an entire issue about them.

  19. There is a critical period for tea-drinking acquisition in children. If children are not introduced to tea by the age of 12, they will never acquire a real taste for it, and will never learn to prepare it properly. Most adults have trouble learning to prepare new kinds of tea or new methods of tea preparation, and generally will have identifiable tea “accents”e.g., improperly adding milk to green tea. Children learn how to drink tea from their families and from their larger social groups, withoutand often even in spite ofdirect instruction from adults. Parents shouldn’t worry about children’s early, idiosyncratic tea habitsusing too much milk, eschewing lemon, only being able to enjoy tea with biscuits, etc.they will naturally grow out of these “bad habits” and will spontaneously acquire proper tea behavior. Multi-beverage familiesespecially in mixed marriages between tea drinkers and coffee drinkersneed to be careful not to confuse their children. If children try to acquire two or more hot beverages while growing up, they will likely never become completely proficient in any of them. If parents insist on instilling in their children multiple hot beverages, they will do less potational damage if they stick to a one-parent-one-beverage rule: e.g., only have tea with mom, only have coffee with dad.

  20. Some experts believe that the drinking of iced tea in the US South arose because Jefferson Davispresident of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil Wardidn’t know that tea was supposed to be drunk hot. First his officers, then high society civilians, then others imitated himat first to be polite, and then because it had become fashionable. This barbaric and corrupt practice continues to this day.

  21. It is seldom remarked on that the word “chai” [tʃɑ͜ɪ], now much used in English for spiced herbal infusions and derived from Persian چای or Russian чай (both meaning “tea”), is homographic with the commonest transliteration of Hebrew חי, pronounced [xɑ͜ɪ], meaning “life” and most often heard in English in the toast “l’chaim”, “to life.” This apparently fortuitous coincidence can be safely taken as a sign of the life-sustaining properties of tea, which largely motivated the mass adoption of the custom of afternoon tea among the British.

  22. Homophony involving tea causes confusion at golf courses throughout the British-speaking world. “Pass the tee, caddy.”

  23. The Mongolian term for “breakfast” is өглөөний цай ‘morning tea,’ which is served containing milk, butter, salt, and often small meat-filled dumplings (банш). Also, as taxes in post-imperial, pre-modern Mongolia were often paid in tea, basic tax accounting units included шар цай ‘yellow tea’ = approx. 40g of tea; чулуун цай ‘stone [i.e. a brick of] tea’ = 30 шар цай; зузаан цай ‘thick tea’ = 2 чулуун цай; сэвэг цай ‘wicker-case tea’ = 800 шар цай.

  24. “Tea” was originally pronounced “tay” (in the 1650s), and still is in some Hiberno-English dialects.

  25. While it is commonly believed that the alternate word for Tea, Chai derives from the Chinese Chá ji (茶剂) ‘Genus of an indigenous aromatic plant used for making brewed beverages’, comparative philology and early recordings demonstrate it is actually a bastardization of Chòu jì (臭妓), lit. ‘Stinking prostitute’, a common insult leveraged at the poorly clothed, unwashed and tone-deaf Europeans who sought to exploit Imperial China.

  26. The Nappaholihok language of Papua New Guinea has no word for tea. The nearest translation is para-iki-apragosti-alani-ulla-e-pip, meaning “That stuff made from boiled leaves that weird foreigners drink.”

  27. Many idioms involving “tea” don’t have anything to do with tea:

1 Be sure you have test strips and adequate refills for your insulin pen.

The Editors Strike BackReplies to Cobb’s Reply to SchomskiThe SpecGram Editorial Board
The Origin of the Modern Pronunciation of “Tea”H.D. Onesimus
SpecGram Vol CLXXIII, No 2 Contents