senatorial saucer (1872)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Nov 10 19:38:25 UTC 2008

On Mon, Nov 10, 2008 at 8:17 AM, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at> wrote:
> On Mon, Nov 10, 2008 at 12:45 AM, Dan Goodman <dsgood at> wrote:
> >
> > I wonder when and why people stopped pouring coffee or tea into the
> > saucer to cool it.
> In this telling of the story from 1877, the practice is pegged at 50
> years previously:
> ---
> Nelson Sizer, _How to Teach According to Temperament and Mental
> Development_ 1877, p. 278
> Fifty years ago people poured their tea into the saucer to cool, and
> drank from that. It is said that Jefferson, while he was Secretary of
> State, was dining with Washington, and they were discussing the
> propriety of having a Senate as a branch of the National Legislature.
> Jefferson asked Washington why a Senate was necessary ? At the same
> time he poured some tea into a saucer, and Washington, with his long
> finger, pointed at it and said, "You have answered the question by
> pouring that hot tea from the cup into the saucer. Let the House of
> Representatives pass a bill in its haste, and pour it into the Senate
> to cool it."
> ---

The practice survived into the 20th century in southern Appalachia, if
DARE is any indication. The entry for _saucer_ includes this sense as
a verb (also spelled _saucy_):

"To pour (a hot liquid) into a saucer to cool; hence ppl adj phr
_saucered and blowed_ cooled by having been poured out and blown upon;
fig: ready, in order. esp sApplachians."
[followed by saucering cites from the '30s to the '90s]

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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