Tea: Supreme Ruler of the Morphemes—Thị Mã Quing, Kofi S. Ucks, Theodore D. Rinker SpecGram Vol CLXXIII, No 2 Contents The Search for a Universal Beverageme is Futility—Ferdinand de Ramotswe

Features of Tea: A Potted History

Pete Bleackley, Keeper of the Editorial Tea Caddy1

According to legend, tea originated when an emperor of China was adding the feature [+boiled] to his drinking-water, having deduced the correlation with [−disease]. A chance gust of wind led to the water becoming [+leaves], and the Emperor noticed it had become [+flavour].

The discovery spread throughout China, and from there, eventually to the rest of the world. Its names are naturally derived from Sinitic languages, either the Mandarin cha or the Min Nan te. These terms are clearly cognate, but do they mean exactly the same thing? One theory is that in te the leaves were finely divided, allowing them to brew more quickly, whereas the leaves used to make cha were in larger particles, thus adding the feature [+delayed_release].

As tea was borrowed by other cultures, variants inevitably arose. A mandarin had already revealed a [+bergamot] variant to Earl Grey, but forms with [+lemon], [+milk] and [+sugar] soon became popular ([+lemon] and [+milk] are, however, incompatible). Amongst the [+milk] forms there are, of course, milk-initial and milk-final variants. While these seem to be in free variation, prescriptivists are always willing to argue the superiority of one over the other, on the usual spurious grounds. Historically, it can be seen that milk-final arose in the environment of [+fine_bone_china], whereas milk-initial occurred with [−fine_bone_china]. Synchronically, my own usage at first appeared to be milk-final with [+bag] and milk-initial with [−bag], but further research shows that the determining factor is that milk-initial occurs with [+teapot].

One thing on which all tea-drinkers can agree is that tea should always be [−brine]. An unfortunate incident occurred in the 18th Century, when some colonists attempted to prepare tea [+brine] in response to a change [+import_duty] → [−import_duty], which they feared would give rise to a secondary [+profitable_­smuggling_­trade][−profitable_­smuggling_­trade]. The results can only be described as [−civilised].

1 Yes, I do keep it in England. Nobody has complained.2

2 Except for Jonathan, who says it should be kept in Scotland.

Tea: Supreme Ruler of the MorphemesThị Mã Quing, Kofi S. Ucks, Theodore D. Rinker
The Search for a Universal Beverageme is FutilityFerdinand de Ramotswe
SpecGram Vol CLXXIII, No 2 Contents