senatorial saucer (1872)

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 10 20:52:50 UTC 2008

As it happens, DARE has one white informant from Marshall, the county
seat of Harrison County, TX, but he apparently wasn't asked about
this. Or, perhaps, the custom survives (survived?) only among "country
folk," to use my late grandmother's disparaging term for rural black

Of course, there's nothing inherently disparaging about the term,
"country folk." But, the way that my grandmother used it, she
definitely meant it as an insult.


All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Mon, Nov 10, 2008 at 2:38 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: senatorial saucer (1872)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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 sAppalachians."
> [followed by saucering cites from the '30s to the '90s]
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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