"(go)off the boil" seems to mean "past the crisis" in British English.
What is the origin/etymology of this expression? Is it used nowadays?
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
Originally an expression of the kitchen. If you have to boil some substance in hot water for a long time and the fire goes out the water goes off the boil, ie stops boiling. An expression that can be used as a metaphor. A typical example for the use of this expression I have read in a novel: An American senator is having sex with a young lady. Then the phone begins ringing in the next room. He knows that it is an important call and goes into the other room. On the phone he says: Make it short, or the young lady I have in bed will go off the boil.
A pity that I have forgotten what novel it was.
I think one reason that it may be a metaphor in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, is because we are tea-drinking nations. And, as anyone who knows how to make a nice cup of tea will tell you, the water (unlike with coffee making) has to be boiling.
I have never had a nice cup of tea in America, nor in France, nor in Germany. But Down-Under in the Outback, the Rosie Lea comes out of the pot just like it does in Old Blighty. And tea is very important. When England and Australia are playing cricket for the coveted Ashes, (during a hot summer of 5 five-day matches) as they are at the moment, cricket is always interrupted for half-an-hour at 4.00pm, for the tea interval. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of a cup of tea.
Now the most frequent error when making tea is to allow the water to go off the boil. I remember having this drummed into me as a child. Thus the expression off the boil is well understood, which may explain its extension into the metaphoric.
I've never heard it but my first thought was that it relates to a boiling pot of water that has settled down.
Boiling water is very active and unpredictable... when you turn the heat off, it "comes off a boil" meaning that when additional energy (heat) is no longer added to water, it causes the water to return to a calm state.
Sure enough, that seems to be the case, as you can see here:
- (UK, Australia) Cease to boil when heat is no longer applied.
- That is the reason for the coin. You will be able to hear it dancing about, and it will tell you if the water goes off the boil or is getting dangerously low. - The Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy and Craig Claibourne, 1972
- (idiomatic, UK, Australia) To lose interest; to pall.
- By then we'd gone off the boil sexually and he was even less keen than I was about 'marriedness', so it was more like friends deciding to share a flat than the setting-up of a ménage. - Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir, Diana Athill, 2009
- (idiomatic, UK, Australia) To become of diminished intensity or urgency.
- (idiomatic, UK, Australia) To become less successful.