A Watched Pot Never Boils


The expression a watched pot never boils means that when we wait for something to happen, it can feel like its taking ‘forever’ to occur.

Example: Anthony is expecting a package to be delivered soon, so he is pacing back and forth by the front door, counting the seconds as they go by. Finally, he said: “Why is it taking so long to get here? 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.”


Phrase - A Watched Pot Never Boils
A watched pot never boils… except when it does.

The Origin Of ‘A Watched Pot Never Boils’

As the saying goes, a watched pot never boils. But is that really the case? It is easy enough to test. All you would have to do is fill a pot with water and place it on the stove. Next, turn up the heat and watch to see if the pot boils or not. Will it? I’ll save you the time and tell you that of course it will come to a boil! This expression, after all, is not meant to be taken literally. Obviously, water heating up on the stove will eventually reach its boiling point, whether you are there to see it happen or not changes nothing. So then, what point is this proverb trying to make? Let’s see:

​The idea with this expression is that when we wait for something specific to happen (in this case, it’s waiting for water to boil), focusing on it can make it feel like it’s taking a really long time to happen. As if each second has become a minute, and each minute, an hour! Okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. It feels like time has slowed down. This feeling can also occur when we are bored, which, if we are waiting for water to boil, then that could be the case!

​Anyways, according to The Phrase Finder, this saying was used by Benjamin Franklin in a report he made. This report was published in 1785, a part from it reads:

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

In the above quote, the proverb has the words “is slow to boil” instead of “never boils.” The latter is more common these days, and the earliest I could find this latter form 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 in summary, this common saying is, at the least, a little over 230 years old.

Example Sentences – ‘A Watched Pot Never Boils’

  • My brother ordered pizza a short while ago and now he’s frequently looking out the window to see if it’s arrived yet. He’s also complaining about how hungry he is, so I told him to calm down and focus on something else; a watched pot never boils, as the saying goes.