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. He is by the door walking back and forth, counting the seconds as they go by. With an irritated tone, 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.”

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
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, place it on the stove and turn up the heat. Then you would just watch to see if the pot boils or not. However, I’ll save you the time and tell you that of course it will come to a boil! This proverb, 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 is prolonged and drawn out. This feeling can also occur when we are bored, which, if we are waiting for water to boil, then maybe that’s 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.”

If you noticed, the proverb in the quote uses the words “is slow to boil” instead of “never boils.” Today, the latter is more commonly used.

The earliest I could find the latter form of the proverb (with the words “never boils” at the end) 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.

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.

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