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Spilling the tea is a phrase that is used as a slang term for gossiping. When someone “spills the tea,” they are sharing secrets with someone else. The “tea” in this context is gossip, a piece of information that may or may not be true, but is of particular interest to the participants of the conversation. Spilling the tea can be talking about something related to the life of the person sharing the information as well, as long as the information itself is considered interesting, sensitive, or “juicy.”
How Did The Phrase Originate?
Spilling the tea as a slang term did not originate online; however, it gained tremendous popularity on the internet. Its usage exploded through social media, but it started as a phrase used in drag culture, more specifically black drag culture. It was popularized in print, through various interviews with the members of the drag scene.
One of the very first written usages of the word “tea” in this context can be found in the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” written by John Berendt in 1994. In a particular part of the book, the author is interviewing a drag performer from Savannah called The Lady Chablis. While they were talking about her dating life, she mentions how certain men get violent once they find out her “tea.” The “tea” is written as "T" in the book, which is used as an alternative quite often. She explains what the “tea” is by saying that it is what is going on in her life.
The Widespread Popularity Of The Tea
In black drag culture, “tea” also had another meaning which could refer to a secret, or simply gossip. It does not necessarily mean our own truth, but also someone else’s. As drag culture started to become more and more popular, the usage of “spilling the tea” began to increase. It gained more and more usage through social media, but also gained more usage in popular media. Movies, TV shows, stand up comedy specials, the phrase was suddenly everywhere during the 2010s.
On social media, the phrase is often used in reactions, in various memes, or purely in the comment sections. The reason we use “tea” now is possibly different from the one the members of the black drag culture. We could say that their reason for using the letter “T” is that it is the first letter of the word truth. That could also mean that most of the time, their “T” was something more serious. Once the general population started to use it, however, its meaning gained a lighter note, so the word tea might have been picked because gossiping resembles gathering over a cup of tea to talk about everyday topics.
About the Author
Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.
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