The internet has turned sharing juicy gossip into a sport, and social media has made it a regular part of life. There’s not a day that goes by where someone isn’t “spilling the tea” on something.
TikTok and Twitter are fertile tea breeding grounds for exclusive details about everything from major court cases to the latest season of 90 Day Fiancé.
When exploring these platforms, you’ll probably find phrases like “Give me the tea” and “Where’s the tea?” You might even see a tweet that features Kermit the Frog sipping a Lipton tea. Seriously, tea is everywhere. But where did this phrase “spill the tea” come from?
The ‘Spill The Tea’ Origin Story
According to the first definition published in the Urban Dictionary, the phrase “spill the tea” means “gossip or personal information belonging to someone else; the scoop; the news.” But why? How did this happen?
Chalk Magazine reported the theory that the phrase “spill the tea” goes all the way back to the late 18th century. As the story goes, women would sit on their front porches and gossip while drinking tea. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence to prove this.
Merriam-Webster claimed the phrase actually originated in black drag culture, just like the term “shade.” But this kind of tea doesn’t have anything to do with the herbal beverage.
In 1991’s One of the Children: An Ethnography of Identity and Gay Black Men by William G. Hawkeswood, a person named “Nate” is quoted as saying “Straight life must be so boring. Because everyone conforms. These gay kids carry on… They give you dance and great tea [gossip].”
One of the earliest known uses of the phrase in pop culture happened in John Berendt’s 1994 best-selling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In the novel, Berendt interviews prominent drag queen The Lady Chablis about her dating life. And she explained how she avoided certain men who got violent when they “find out her T.”
“My T. My thing, my business, what’s goin’ on in my life,” she said. Apparently, that was the birth of spilling the tea. As people all over America were installing dial-up internet in their homes, the phrase started to spread and take hold.
Chablis’ interview in the book introduced the world to black drag culture and vocabulary. Her “T”, or her truth, was that she’s transgender.
Chanté, You Stay
After getting introduced in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the phrase started popping up in different places. On Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, Larry Wilmore often used it. He also called out someone for lying by saying “weak tea.”
But it was most likely Rupaul’s Drag Race that put the phrase in our daily lexicon. It’s in this iconic show where “tea” (meaning gossip) is used interchangeably with “T” (meaning your personal truth).
Gone are the days of spreading gossip. Now, when you’ve got some juicy news to share, it’s time to spill the tea.