The appointment of William E. Schaufele as ambassador to Greece apparently has been delayed because of a stormy reaction in Athens to an obscure phrase used by him at his Senate confirmation hearings.

To Americans unfamiliar with the centuries of animosity between Greece and Turkey, the incident might seem to be a tempest in an Aegean teapot. But Athens newspapers and politicans have fanned it into a major controversly between the two countries.

Informed sources said it appeared that Schaufele's assignment to Greece now would be delayed at least until Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance meets the Greek foreign minister at the United Nations in September. The sources said it was conceivable the appointment would be canceled.

The controversy centered on Schaufele's testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 12. He said:

"The Aegean, essentially, is a bilateral dispute between Greece and Turkey, which in part is due to the unusual. I must admit, arrangements that have been made about geography in the past in which you have Greece owning territory very close to the Turkish coast as a result of past international agreements."

The words "unusual arrangements" relayed to Athens by the New York correspondent of the Athens daily to Vima, caused shock and constenation. Some Greek took the testimony that had been pulled out of context as a signal that the United States disapproved of treaty arrangements which placed islands such as Lesbos and Chios under Greek control.

Andreas Papandreous, chairman of the Greek specialist parts, thundered that it was now clear that "Turkish expansion is not only instigated but directly guided by the United States. Schaufele would be unacceptable to any Greek, he said.

The United Democratic Left party said it was clear Schaufele, 53, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was "an open advocate of Turkish views."

To Vima, outraged by the "astounding statement," said Sehaufele must be an "agent of concepts which encourage Turkish expansionism."

The reaction created political difficulties for the government of Prime Minister Constantin Karamanlis, who has been forced to deal with strong anti-American sentiment while attempting to maintain good relations with the United States.

Subsequently, the State Department released an edited version of the Sehaufele transcript which appeared to make the wording more diplomatic. If said:

"The problem (of the Aegean) is due in part to an unusual arrangement of geography. Greece owns territory very close to the Turkish coast. This ownership is based on long-standing international agreements."

Jack Kubisch, who returned Tuesday night after a two-year tour as ambassador in Athens, conferred with Assistant Secretary of State George S. Vest on the Greek view of the Schaufele nomination.

Greek-Turkish relations have been bitter since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 to overturn a coup by Greek nationalist forces on the binational island nation.

One U.S. official was critical of the Greek interpretations of Schaufele's statements, saying "he was only repeating the facts as they are," the Associated Press reported.