Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tempest in the Teapot

In today's Enquirer a scientist referred to the details in the challenged results of a controlled experiment as a "tempest in a teapot".  Obviously the context of the quote indicates the scientist's  has the opinion that the details argued about were "much to do about nothing".  But where did this term come from? 

A quick internet search gave credit to Cicero - "Excitabat fluctus in simpulo" - translated as "He was stirring up billows in a ladle". 

It is so easy to get a meeting "off track" by showing a slight inaccuracy in a detail (like a number or assumption). The result can be to discredit the entire analysis and conclude the meeting with an opposite conclusion from the recommended postulate.  Which is why we claim "the devil is in the details".

Either way - the image I had reading this idiom was one of those "singing" teapots my Grandma Wisner always had on her stove - whistling at decibels that required attention when the tempest inside was over heated.

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