When someone makes a great fuss over something that is not terribly important, it is known as a “storm in a teacup.” You may also hear the phrase “tempest in a teacup” or “tempest in a teapot,” depending on the region of the world in which you live. In all cases, the phrase is meant to remind people of the relative unimportance of an issue, suggesting that people would be better served by focusing on problems of greater importance.
This slang term references the idea that within the microcosm of a teacup, a small ripple can seem like a big wave, and any sort of jostling or change will result in a ripple or two. However, once one looks outside the teacup, the disturbance is revealed as a minor issue which one might not even notice unless it is pointed out. When someone causes such a problem, they belabor an issue more than they need to.
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In many cases, someone makes a storm in a teacup out of a desire for attention. People may greatly exaggerate the circumstances of a situation to attract pity or comment, or to get people fired up about the issue. Others simply enjoy being the center of attention, telling elaborate stories to keep people's thoughts centered on them. Of course, these techniques can backfire, as when one becomes known for making a big deal out of small problems, it can be hard to convince people that a situation is actually serious.
Many politicians use the term in their rhetoric, suggesting that an opponent is making a storm in a teacup about an issue to dismiss that platform or ideas of an opponent. It has also popped up occasionally in court decisions, with judges commenting that a case is a tempest in a teacup and therefore not worthy of attention. Since most judges grow rather cross when forced to try frivolous cases, lawyers as a general rule try to avoid being accused of causing such problems.
A variety of colorful slang terms are used around the world in much the same way that a storm in a teacup is used. For example, one might say that someone is making a mountain out of a molehill, exaggerating a situation dramatically for no good reason. It may also be said that someone's vision and perspective is clouded, making it difficult for them to understand the actual importance of a situation, as in the saying “he can't see the forest for the trees.”