More tea, Vicar?

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Photo: Shutterstock / Borsmenta

Q: Why do people say, ‘More tea, Vicar?’ when someone farts?
A: It’s a joke about the thin veneer of civilisation covering our all-too solid animal nature, and our embarrassment about it – always good for a laugh.

It’s a joke about the incongruous congruity of a human (the vicar) representing morality ordained by a supernatural supreme being (God-based civilisation), an undeniable animal stench (the fart), and the consequent irreverent humour (the joke).

God being spiritual, and farting, animal, the saying ‘More tea, Vicar?’ humourously encapsulates the tension between those two worlds of meaning. The tea is a healing balm. The fortified wine that might then be produced closes the wound. Tea and sherry – closure medication for our divided souls.

But how does the vicar come into it?

Imagine a semi-mythical English past where people, whether working-class or middle-class, called their front room, if they had one, the parlour.

The parlour was the best room, reserved for special occasions. One such occasion would be a visit by the vicar, the Church of England parish priest. The family would wear their Sunday-best clothes, and tea would be served using the best service.

The conversation would be somewhat strained, due to the status of the guest depending on a shared tradition of faith in a supernatural supreme being (a belief which would inevitably cause some doubt in the minds of all concerned, not least that of the vicar).

During an awkward pause in the conversation someone, perhaps nervously, lets rip a loud fart. To allay the even more awkward silence and the undeniable animal stench, Mother – who, traditionally, pours the tea – brightly asks, “More tea, Vicar?“.

(Traditionally, Father may relieve the tension with a cheerful “Better out than in!“, thus enabling the conversation to sputter on. Fortified wine might shortly be produced, to the relief of all.)

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