How come it isn't "I'm a Little Teakettle?"

Cecil says the teakettle is where we boil the water, and the teapot is where we put the boiled water. Nice try, but common usage says we boil water in teapots. If some grammarian wants to make an imaginary distinction, fine – but don’t claim that it represents the English language.

I’m a little teapot,
Short and stout,
Here is my handle, (one hand on hip)
Here is my spout, (other arm out with elbow and wrist bent)
When I get all steamed up,
Hear me shout,
Tip me up and pour me out!

Um, what? You boil the water in the kettle; the teapot is the thing you put the boiled water and tea into. Who boils water in the teapot?

Also: link to column

Tea kettles


Because teakettle is one syllable longer and wouldn’t fit the song properly.

I don’t know the terminology for verses and stanzas or whatever but “I’m a little teapot” is the same tune and number of syllables as “When I get all steamed up”". “Teakettle” would ruin that.

In any case, I stick a teabag in a cup of water and heat it in the microwave. Maybe one day in the future someone will post on the Dope, “what’s that little teapot song about?”

The distinction wouldn’t be about grammar anyway. If you’re going to quibble about word usage you might want to start with your own.

If I cared at all how tea was prepared I might have read the column to find out about the distinction. But until just now I had no idea there was a difference between a teakettle and a teapot.

I don’t know where you’re from but in my party of the world that’s totally and utterly wrong. Nice try but don’t claim your regional usage represents the entire English language.

A teapot is a vessel that you put tea leaves in, and then you pour in boiling water from a kettle and leave it to steep. “I’m A Little Teapot” is a rhyme for children and may sacrifice actual, literal accuracy for an easy rhyming pair with the right number of syllables.

That’s the case in this household anyway.

In the OP’s defense, it’s the tea kettle that “shouts” when it gets “steamed up.” The water in the teapot is cooling as the tea steeps.

Unless there are teapots that you heat the water in and whistle when it boils, but I’ve never seen one.

I’ve certainly never seen one. Indeed, in the 50’s, my mother used a “teakettle” to heat the water for a coffeepot, until she changed from drip to percolator.

I don’t know why the song is confused. The traditional pose for the song suggests a teapot far more than any kettle I’ve ever seen. How old is the song?

Coffeepots, of course, are often heated on the stove (or are self-heated). But they aren’t normally ceramic, whereas teapots normally are.

I haven’t used a teakettle since I got my first microwave. But when I did make tea, I’d pour the water directly into a cup with a teabag in it. I never bothered with a teapot.

The short-and-stout ceramic pot with the handle and curved spout generally wouldn’t even survive being put directly on the hot stove. If you’re going to use one of those (obviously, not everyone does), then you need a separate pot to do the boiling in. That separate pot is the kettle.


And the rhyme is just not empirically accurate, is all.

Tea pot and tea kettle are used interchangably in many places. I’m guessing the Brits differentiate the two, since they’re a tea culture.

Both seem to be short and stout, with a handle on one side and a spout on the other. Just look at the photos provided by Gyrate. The shouting when steamed up suggests the rhyme should be about a teakettle. But songwriters get dramatic license, like poets and authors.

  1. If you’re putting my expensive ceramic teapots onto the stove, we’re going to have Words.
  2. Kettles are for boiling things. Teakettles are for boiling water for tea.
  3. Someone may have made an instrument for boiling water in, making tea in, and pouring tea out of, but I’ve never seen it. It would be really counterproductive, because you shouldn’t boil brewing or brewed tea, and the metal taste would contaminate the tea.

I can conclude:
4) There is no earthly reason why teapots and teakettles should be confused. They’re simply two different vessels. It’s like confusing a saucepan and a soup tureen.

Sure there is. Like the existence of a popular children’s rhyme that talks about teapots getting steamed up and shouting.
Powers &8^]

Most of the photos of tea kettles show a handle on the top, not on the side.

Just sayin’.

Naw, it fits–you just do the same thing they did for the phrase “I’m a” or the word “little,” splitting the dotted quarter note into a quarter and an eighth. Honestly, I think it sounds more natural, as having that many long-held short syllables in a row sounds odd. It makes you want to say “teapot” as if it’s staccato.

I think the song is our best evidence that teapot and teakettle used to not be so easily differentiated. Songs often hold on to older usage. If teapot was definitely the wrong word when this was written, you’d expect some people to have “corrected” it before it became so ubiquitous. However, if it were popular before people thought the word was wrong, it might not change because of tradition.

The song was only written in 1939 by a songwriter born in 1906. It’s not a traditional rhyme handed down for centuries or anything. Heck, it hasn’t even passed out of copyright yet! It could be the distilled arcane wisdom of the ancient teabrewers, or it could be one songwriter’s idiosyncratic misuse of established terms that filtered into public consciousness via a catchy tune. I’d be hesitant to hang my hat on the song being evidence of anything, any more than I’d trust a Hollywood movie as a source of factual information.

Wikipedia says The Teapot Song was inspired by “Luke Parry, who resembled a teapot in his famous dance, The Fatty Fumble.” It also says The Teapot Song was written for a dance teacher to use for his younger students as “the accompanying dance required minimal skill and encouraged natural pantomime”. Putting those two facts together I’d guess the songwriter’s mission was to create a simple, catchy song with words that described the accompanying actions, complete with a shout out to Luke Parry, the original teapot dancer.

And just as an afterthought… 6 of the 8 lines of the song describe a teapot. Short, stout, handle on the side, yep, that’s more teapot than kettle (particularly traditional stovetop kettles which usually have an overhead handle). Tip it over, pour it out - that could be either. The only lines that suggest it must be a kettle are
“When I get all steamed up
Hear me shout”
Which presumably is more catchy than
“When I have been brewing for 3-5 minutes
Strain me through a wire mesh”.