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What is the Origin of a watched pot never boils?

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2010-12-07 19:37:41
2010-12-07 19:37:41

The exact origin of the phrase is unclear, but the meaning is very clear indeed:

A pot of water is going to boil in exactly the same length of time whether or not you watch it, but if you are so impatient that you need to keep watching in the hope it will boil more quickly it will seem to take forever to come to boiling point.

The phrase, "A watched pot never boils" contains a warning against giving in to impatience; it'll do you no good at all and will only serve to make you and those around you uncomfortable.

Of course, if you occupy yourself with something else while waiting for the pot to boil, it will be boiling away like mad before you know it.

You see a good example of this kind of impatience every day in the elevator lobby of any building: there's always someonewho'll come along, see the button lit up to indicate the elevator's already been called, but still has to hit the lit-up button again. Sometimes they'll stare at the button and hit it several times, as if they can somehow make the elevator arrive more quickly.

Once in the elevator, even if someone else has already pressed the button for their floor, they still have to press it again!

None of this makes the elevator arrive faster, or get to its floors more quickly: it just makes the impatient one more irritable and leaves many observers feeling vaguely uncomfortable.

I wonder whether the button-thumpers and those in their vicinity would all have a happier day if they spent the time in the lift lobby saying good morning to one another?

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A watched pot never boils does not have an express origin. It is called an idiom. It means something else besides what it implies.


No, it is not. It is the past tense and past participle of the verb (to watch) and can be used as an adjective (e.g. a watched pot never boils).


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