"(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?

  • 1
    When the bubbles stop coming up, a previously boiling liquid is said to have gone off the boil. This happens after heating is stopped, but not immediately; there is always a delay caused by thermal hysteresis. May 29 '15 at 17:06
  • It doesn't only mean "past the crisis". It is frequently used to mean something is not performing as well as it did. Manchester United have gone off the boil since Ferguson retired.
    – WS2
    Jul 12 '15 at 7:34

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.

  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman maybe? - Wednesday to Shadow, "I don't sleep. It's overrated. A bad habit I do my best to avoid - in company, wherever possible, and the young lady may go off the boil if I don't get back to her."
    – Catija
    May 29 '15 at 17:38
  • Thanks, Catija, your quote is almost the same. What I read was a thriller with the daughter of a senator as the central person of the novel, and the relation between daughter and father isn't very good. I must have the book around here, but there are too many books around.
    – rogermue
    May 29 '15 at 17:51

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.

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