In Hot Water

You’re ‘in hot water.’ It’s a mess; trouble is brewing. Where does this phrase originate?



These origin stories are no joke.

Some claim that the phrase is rooted in people spilling boiling water on themselves whilst cooking 😬. Others insist that the idea of being ‘in hot water’ is based on ancient aristocrats who would lean out of their windows, and throw boiling water on intruders in order to discourage further ingress 😬😬.

In combing through weathered dictionaries, however, the most common explanation we find is #3…


The Hot Water Ordeal
This horrifying idiom inspiration is also known as ‘Trial by Water’ or ‘The Cauldron Ordeal.’

Suspected of thievery in pre-13th Century Europe?  Well, the torturers-that-be will drop a jewel or stone into a vat of boiling water. Now, reach your hand in and pull it out.

Is it a kindness when they bandage your arm afterwards? Of course not. Three days hence, you and your screeching appendage will be summoned back. If, on removing said bandages, these medieval investigators find wounds or blains on your skin, you must be guilty. An innocent person’s arm would have been purged of any damage.

So, boils a-blistering? It’s curtains for you. Well, unless someone influential in the judging room suspects you might be innocent and decides to ‘see’ the state of your arm differently. “Those festering red blotches? Those are just birthmarks.”



Header Art: Edward Ruscha. Oof. 1962. Reworked in 1963




Dropping In On David


Deadly Drinks

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton