35

In England when someone farts they might say "More tea vicar?"

When did this start, and how did it come about? It feels unusual enough to have a definite creation - some comedian perhaps? Web searches for ["more tea vicar" origin] or ["more tea vicar" etymology] do return results, but they're low quality and don't answer the question.

(I don't think it's in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable either, although I could be wrong)

  • 25
    I have never once heard that expression used after someone farted and I've lived in England all my life. – camden_kid Apr 15 '15 at 9:10
  • 3
    @camden_kid: it’s far from ubiquitous, but it definitely persists among people of a certain sense of humour. As a 30-something Brit (though I’ve lived elsewhere for a while now) I know a few people my age who certainly use the phrase. – PLL Apr 15 '15 at 14:46
  • 5
    I have never heard the expression either, despite having changed planes at Heathrow on several occasions, but now that I have heard it, I plan to employ it whenever I can. – Malvolio Apr 15 '15 at 17:55
  • 1
    Never heard it either (and also lived in England all my life). Maybe it is fairly localised to some class/social group/region? – Francis Davey Apr 15 '15 at 19:04
  • It should be in a brewer's dictionary since it is about tea! – Xi'an Apr 16 '15 at 9:09
30

Nigel Rees actually published a book titled More Tea Vicar? An Embarrassment of Domestic Catchphrases (2009), but its entry for that phrase is disappointingly vague:

more tea, Vicar? A correspondent who, understandably, wished to remain anonymous advanced the family phrase, 'for after a fart, or to cover any kind of embarrassment'. Paul Beale has collected various forms for a revision of Partridge/Catch Phrases, including 'good evening, vicar!'; 'no swearing please, vicar' (said facetiously to introduce a note of the mock highbrow into a conversation full of expletives); 'another cucumber sandwich, vicar' (after an involuntary belch); 'speak up, Padre!/Brown/Ginger (you're through)' (as a response to a fart).

Rees (again) in A Word in Your Shell-like (2004) provides additional information on the phrase:

more tea, Vicar? Phrase for use after a fart or to cover any kind of embarrassment. British use, from the 1920s/30s? ... David Rogers declares: 'The phrase, "More tea, Vicar?" has entered the language as shorthand for comfortable suburbia.' Hence these stories: '"More tea, Vicar?" asked Lady Lavinia as she poured the tea with her other hand' and 'One day the young Vicar was visiting two elderly ladies. Whilst he was sitting on the shiny sofa, he passed wind mightily and noisily. As the echoes died away, one of the ladies filled the embarrassing silence by asking, "More tea, Vicar?" "Oh no!" he replied," "It makes me fart!"'

On the other hand, Julia Cresswell, The Cat's Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Clichés (2000) indicates that "More tea, vicar?" was a catchphrase associated with sedate gentility before it got commandeered by jokesters:

The tea party expression [which arises in connection with "behaviour that would make something less outrageous look like a vicarage tea party"], and the associated catchphrase More tea, vicar?, have been in use as a comparative standard of innocence since at least the 1950s.

In any case, a Google Books search doesn't turn up any matches at all for "more tea, vicar" before 1981, when the phrase appears in New Zealand Alpine Journal, volume 34, not in the context of farting or complacent gentility but of a surprisingly easy ascent:

Well, the photos we took from the air must have been tilted, because we wandered up in perfect conditions as though it was a Sunday picnic. More tea, Vicar!

Under the circumstances, I think that the circa 1985 date put forward by The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2015), noted in Josh61's answer, is far closer to the mark than Nigel Rees's "from the 1920s/30s?" as the starting point for saying "More tea, vicar?" after someone farts.

28

According to The Concise New Patridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English the humorous expression dates back to 1985:

  • More tea, vicar? used humourously to acknowledge a fart or a belch, UK 1985.

From The virtual linguist:

  • I noticed in the kitchen department of John Lewis china teapots with the phrase "More tea, vicar?" written on them. I wondered if the phrase meant anything to the hundreds of tourists around. I doubt it. "More tea, vicar?" is a phrase associated with old sitcoms where vicars were always either bumbling old dodderers or naive simpletons. Something would happen in the storyline eg someone would start swearing, belch or be generally uncouth, at which point the genteel lady of the house would pick up the teapot and ask "More tea, vicar?" in a desperate attempt to divert his attention from the insalubrious goings-on. Outside of sitcoms someone who commits a faux pas, or gets himself/herself in a tricky or embarrassing situation while with a group of friends, might utter the phrase "More tea, vicar?" as a way of changing the subject. It is meant to be amusing, of course.

(virtuallinguist.typepad.com)

  • 7
    I have also heard the follow-on riposte, as uttered by the infamous vicar: "No thanks, just some more f**king cake". Where the comedic intention is to puncture the pomposity of the genteel lady of the house delicately trying to gloss over the faux pas by making the vicar of similar lowbrow stock as the transgressor and thus rendering the lady's sensibilities irrelevant... I has always assumed the entire transaction to have derived from some clever "alternative comedy" skit and thus date back to the mid 80s – Marv Mills Apr 14 '15 at 15:23
14

I believe your initial guess is correct, and it was originally a catch phrase used by the comedian Dick Emery. Google helpfully shows a picture in character on a cursory search for 'more tea vicar'.

His show ran on the BBC from 1963-1981. In 1970 he released an comedy album with one of the tracks titled 'The Vicar Of Belching-By-The-Sea'.

  • Dick Emery, eh? I'm not surprised, a lot of his schtick was about class. Otherwise I like @Josh's quote. I had not heard the phrase before, but even so it was perfectly transparent to me because unfortunately I was brought up among the sedately genteel, and I can just imagine them saying this. Because the genteel by definition never have any wind to break, or indeed any bodily functions at all. Another possible reaction to an ecclesiastical fart would be "Nice weather for the time of year, isn't it?" – David Pugh Apr 23 '15 at 12:10
3

See "The Africa Queen", (filmed in 1951) set in WW1 (ie 1914-18, and I think the book/film was actually set in late 1914). Charlie Allnut (Bogart) belches at the table in front of the Rev. Samuel Sayer, and Miss Rose Sayer politely enquires "more tea Mr. Allnut?"

It's an expression that has been around for years and years, and the "Vicar" part of it was simply a gentle poke at the Anglican Clergy, which the British, and British humour have been doing for ever. It definitely predates the mid 80's, by a long, long margin.

  • "It's been around for years and years" is fine, but we know the etymology of some phrases and I wondered if we knew the first use of this phrase, especially with the fart connection. See also "the whole nine yards" which has a bunch of faux-etymologies but I'm not sure if we know the real origin. – DanBeale Apr 24 '15 at 18:11
0

I am a native speaker of British English, former EFL trainer and translator and I've never related this comic phrase with flatulence, just middle-class tweeness in general - See: Derek Nimmo in "All Gas and Gaiters" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXLb101B6OM

... The wind-breaking angle could have something to it, though.

  • There's the old limerick: "I sat next to the Duchess at tea. / It was just as I feared it would be: / Her rumblings abdominal / Were simply phenomenal, / And everyone thought it was me. " – tautophile May 25 '18 at 16:47

protected by choster Apr 2 '16 at 23:31

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.