A Watched Pot Never Boils

Meaning:

When we’re waiting or expecting something to happen, it can feel like its taking forever to actually occur.

Example: Anthony is expecting a package to be delivered soon. He is walking back and forth by the door, counting the seconds as they go by. “Why is it taking so long to get here?” Anthony said in a pouting manner, “I wish they would hurry up!” Noticing his impatience, his mother told him: “A watched pot never boils. Go do something else to keep yourself busy, and before you know it, the package will be here.”

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
None.

The Origin Of ‘A Watched Pot Never Boils’

As the saying goes, a watched pot never boils. Is that really the case? It seems easy enough to test. All someone would have to do is fill a pot with water, place it on the stove and turn up the heat. Then it’s time to watch. Will the pot come to a boil? Of course it will! This proverb, after all, is not meant to be taken literally. Obviously, a pot of water heating up on the stove will reach its boiling point, whether you are watch it happen or not. So then, what point is this proverb trying to make? This:

​While waiting for something to happen (in this case, it’s waiting for water to boil), focusing specifically on that can make it feel like it’s taking forever to happen. Indeed, while we are busy doing things, it can feel as though time is flying by. However, when we are bored and/or waiting for something, then it can feel like just the opposite—as if time has slowed down to a crawl.

​Anyways, according to The Phrase Finder, this saying was used by Benjamin Franklin in a report he made. It (the report) was published in 1785. There’s a part that reads:

“I was very Hungry; it was so late; ‘a watched pot is slow to boil,’ as Poor Richard says.”

So, two things: First, the ‘Poor Richard’ that’s mentioned at the end of the quote is a pseudonym that Benjamin Franklin used for a yearly almanac he published called Poor Richard’s Almanack, which continued from 1732 to 1758. Second, the proverb in the quote uses the words “is slow to boil” instead of “never boils.” The latter is the more common form that’s used today, I believe.

The earliest appearance that I could find of the latter form of the proverb (with the words “never boils” in it) is from a newspaper called Cobbett’s Political Register, Volume 14, 1808:

“If I had a labonrer, who was to become a notorious drunkard, I would dismiss him, becasue it would be my duty strongly to shew my disapprobation of so beastly a vice; but, after a good deal of observation, I am thoroughly convinced, that, as a ‘watched pot never boils,’ so a watched penny never breeds.”

​So this common saying is a little over 230 years old, at the least.

Did You Know? – ‘A Watched Pot Never Boils’ Edition

Here are some kinda related facts, but not really, about ‘a watched pot never boils’: 

  • The boiling point of water is 212 °F (100 °C). However, this changes depending on the atmospheric pressure. So if you’re up on top of a tall mountain, then the temperature needed to boil water is lower. 
  • It takes around 8-15 minutes to boil one liter of water on a stove.

  • Waiting for a pot to boil is pretty boring. Go do something else while you wait, but don’t forget about the pot.