Looking for a Good Tea Fight?

Archival Moment

June 26, 1897

Evening Telegram, St. John's, NL Advertisement: February 3, 1894

Evening Telegram, St. John’s, NL Advertisement: February 3, 1894

A great number of expressions and terms that were part of everyday conversation have been lost over the years. In Newfoundland there was a time that one would be very excited to be invited to a “tea fight” it was an event that people looked forward to with great enthusiasm.

On June 26, 1897 the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported on a big “tea fight” held in the community of Channel, Port aux Basques. The newspaper reported:

“There was a great display of bunting at Channel (Port aux Basques) on the 22nd. In the evening people of the place enjoyed a big “tea fight” and a dancing event on an extensive scale.”

In the 1890’s a great number of societies and organizations throughout the country (Newfoundland) were encouraging “tea fights.”   Firemen, policemen, educators, Christian teachers, leaders in the temperance community, all were encouraging or sponsoring ‘big tea fights.”

In St. John’s a “tea fight”  at the West End Fire Hall for firemen, policemen, and lady friends, kept up till midnight.

“Tea fights” were annual events at the Temperance Hall on Victoria St. The Telegram reported

“There was a superb tea fight participated in with good appetite. Every person present fared well—freely partook of a good serving by young ladies in charge of the tables, and made no further complaint than “the water is not hot enough.”

A “tea fight” is an English term that referred to a “little social gathering” or “an evening party.” The Oxford English Dictionary explains “tea-fight” as a slang or humorous name for a tea-party or tea-meeting.

In 1869 William Conant Church argued in the entertainment magazine The Galaxy that the “ignominious phrase, a tea fight…” can be traced back to the expression “a sociable dish of tea.” He wrote:

“Our mother and grandmothers gathered on special summons or went without warning on general invitation; and even our fathers and grandfathers despised neither the tea nor the sociability that sweetened it. But the thing (a sociable dish of tea) and its name have passed away … it lives only in the memory of some morose old bachelors under the ignominious phrase, a tea fight…”

The phrase “tea fight” may have been dying away in other parts of the world in the early 1870’s but in Newfoundland “tea fights” were very popular in the 1890’s and continued until the 1920’s.

It is now another phrase lost from our everyday conversation.

Time for a tea, perhaps I will have you over for a “tea fight” some evening.

What are other phrases, terms or expressions particular to Newfoundland and Labrador have been lost?

Recommended Reading: The Dictionary of Newfoundland English, first published in 1982 is a historical dictionary that gives the pronunciations and definitions for words that the editors have called “Newfoundland English”. The varieties of English spoken in Newfoundland date back four centuries, Culled from a vast reading of books, newspapers and magazines, this book is the most sustained reading ever undertaken of the written words of this province. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/