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I came across the word "tea-spilling" in a video where a girl (a vlogger) is talking about moving into a new apartment:

"We're moving house and I'm still not sure of whether I want to tell you the whole story because it's a bit dramatic, a bit of tea spilling and I'm not sure I can be bothered..."

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/EHmsLnnt3IY, timing: 0:09-0:20.

What does "tea spilling" (or maybe tea-spilling) mean?

If I hear this word I imagine this: you've just heard some shocking news and your eyebrows go up and you spill the tea you're drinking in surprise. :) For me this is a "tea spilling" reaction. Thus, tea-spilling might mean shocking, or startling.

On the other hand, there's an idiom "spill the tea" meaning "tell the truth", "tell me everything". Does "tea-spilling" mean "revealing something secret, deep, or personal" then?

The point is that I can't find "tea spilling" on the internet at all, it would switch to "spilling tea" which is not an adjective. Is it a good word? An informal word? Is there such a word at all and why I cannot find it anywhere else?

  • I think she explains her intended meaning with the word "dramatic". Emotional turmoil. The parallelism there with "a bit" suggests that she regards those phrases as synonymous. I don't regard it as a case of ellipsis: ... a bit dramatic, [and if I were to tell you it would involve] a bit of tea spilling... (i.e. self-revelation) but that is not impossible by any means, as her tone of voice is rather fraught. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 1 at 13:28
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Many thanks for your explanation. I'm now trying to think of another situation where the use of "tea-spilling" would be possible. For instance, one says to his friend: "We had a huge fight, many insults and curses being told .. oh, please don't make me tell you, it's tea-spilling"... does it sound awkward? – Olga Feb 1 at 13:50
  • curses being told and it is tea-spilling are not natural ways of saying it. It would be something like "...insults exchanged and lots of cursing..." and then something like "...but I don't want to spill the tea". That said, the delicacy of "spill the tea" is somewhat incongruous with a harsh and nasty fight. And once you've described the fight in those terms, you've already spilled the tea. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 1 at 14:01
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What she means is "spilling the tea", which was originally African American English vernacular for divulging gossip, typically about someone acquainted with the people present but not physically present themselves. "Tea" is slang for "truth", thus the phrase means "spilling (telling) the (likely unpleasant) truth." The phrase has been popularized by the drag subculture in the United States, especially the television show RuPaul's Drag Race, which led to "spilling the tea" becoming a common phrase among young people, especially young gay people.

You could use "tea" in other contexts in the same vernacular, for instance: "That's the tea" in response to a statement the listener perceived as true, especially if it's a popular or commonly accepted truism.

It is certainly an informal usage and not something that every English speaker, or even every American, would understand.

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The cited usage (also recently raised on ELU) is a relatively1 uncommon American alternative to / variant of...

spill the beans - to tell people secret information

I think (but I'm not American, and it's not part of my "productive vocabulary", so I can't be sure) that the tea version has stronger overtones of gossip. So it may be used where the matter being discussed could be more properly described as "private, personal" rather than "secret".


1 relatively as reflected by Google Books hits for decided to spill the beans:2390, decided to spill the tea:8

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