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In the song "Steam" by Peter Gabriel, there is a line of lyrics:

Stir-crazy from the freezer to the foil

Is this an idiom I have never heard before, or just a bit of nonsense he strung together?

It's not even used as a rhyme, it's just a free lyric near the end.

EDIT:

In a comment, @BoldBen questions whether its actually even "foil" in the first place. Now I'm not sure! Maybe this is just a mondegreen!

When you do a Google search or Bing search on "Peter Gabriel Steam lyrics" you get a ready-to-read list of lyrics, credited to MusixMatch.com, and those show "from the freezer to the foil". Here's a link to the lyrics on the site: https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Peter-Gabriel/Steam

Likewise MetroLyrics.com says "foil":

https://www.metrolyrics.com/steam-lyrics-peter-gabriel.html

On one web site the lyric is given as "from the freezer to the boil":

https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/13042/

On another web site, the lyric is given both as "from the freezer to the foil" and as "from the freezer to the boil", for two edits of the song. It's highly unlikely that the lyric was changed, it seems certain that one of them is incorrect.

Radio edit, "freezer to the foil":

https://genius.com/Peter-gabriel-steam-radio-edit-lyrics

Main song entry, "freezer to the boil":

https://genius.com/Peter-gabriel-steam-lyrics

Okay, let's go to the source. Here's the YouTube video for the song, cued up to the part (at about time mark 4:55) where Peter Gabriel sings that line:

https://youtu.be/Qt87bLX7m_o?t=294

I'm still not sure which one it is! I have literally thought for decades that it was "foil", but listening to it now it sounds closer to "bowl" than anything.

There's a following line (at about time mark 5:06) where he sings "coming to a boil" and the word "boil" is clearly enunciated, which argues against this word also being "boil"... why would he pronounce the same word two ways? But the second time he sang the word "bubble" over and over and maybe that changed how much emphasis he put on the 'b'?

Arguing for "boil": The technology used for this song to equalize the levels on singing tends to over-emphasize white noise, causing an 'S' sound to be amplified into a bit of a hiss. You can clearly hear this on the often-repeated "steam" in the song. An 'f', as in "foil", can get amplified as well, to a lesser degree. On the mystery word I don't hear anything boosted at the start of the word.

Also, arguing against "boil", it's not a hard word to rhyme and it's surprising if Peter Gabriel used "boil" as a rhyme for itself. But there's this "freezer to the ???" lyric and then "coming to a boil".

But doing web searches for "freezer to the foil" finds nothing but references to this song, so I'm now convinced it's definitely not an obscure idiom, but either nonsense Peter Gabriel made up or a mondegreen for "freezer to the boil".

If it is "boil" that means that the song follows "freezer to the boil" with "coming to a boil", which is kind of repetitive, but it's kind of free verse at the end rather than the neat rhymes of the main song.

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    It is a rhyme—foil/boil, which is an important part of the lyric about “steam.” It is not a phrase I’ve ever heard before.
    – Xanne
    Mar 26 at 5:48
  • Now that you mention it, there is an immediately following lyric about "it's coming to a boil".
    – steveha
    Mar 26 at 6:20
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    It's not an idiom, but it's clearly representing going fromthe extremes of very cold to very hot since foil (i.e., tin foil or aluminum foil-- or out of respect for the great Peter Gabriel's Britishness "aluminium foil") is used for wrapping food to be cooked in an oven. Gabriel is evoking imagery of something freezing being put in an oven where it starts to boil, that being analogous to going from sexual frigidity to sexual steaminess in the song. Apr 27 at 6:33
  • @BenjaminHarman I agree with your analysis, foil is likely meant to imply food for an oven, thus cold to hot.
    – steveha
    Apr 28 at 8:02
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I don't know the song but stir-crazy is slang, defined in the Collins online dictionary as

mentally disturbed as a result of being in prison or otherwise confined

It is also used by people who are not mentally disturbed but have experienced a period of confinement or relative restriction of movement (most of us under the Covid-19 restrictions of course) to describe their feelings of boredom and frustration, often in sentences like "I'm going a bit stir-crazy with lockdown".

"Stir-crazy" comes from the 19thC (and later) British slang "stir" meaning prison, originally Newgate prison in London and is said by the mashed radish website to have a possible derivation from the Romany word sturiben meaning prison.

It is also possible that it is related (as source or derivation) to the British slang "porridge" for prison.

Peter Gabriel (who is English, of course) has probably used word play to make a pun on "stir crazy" with the normal meaning of "stir" to talk about the process of defrosting and cooking frozen food, perhaps with enthusiasm but also possibly with boredom and frustration. As you and Xanne have given us the adjacent lines

Stir-crazy from the freezer to the foil

It's coming to the boil

As I said I don't know the song and I'd need more of the lyrics to be sure but that seems to be what's going on here. The full phrase you are asking about is not an idiom.

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  • You can do a web search for "Peter Gabriel Steam lyrics" and find the full lyrics. I don't endorse any particular site but here's a URL to one site with the lyrics: songmeanings.com/songs/view/13042
    – steveha
    Mar 26 at 21:20
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    @steveha Strangely the lyrics under your link don't actually contain the line 'Stir-crazy from the freezer to the foil', it reads 'Stir-crazy from the freezer to the boil' Have you got the quote right?
    – BoldBen
    Mar 27 at 21:46
  • in response to your comment I edited the question. Now I'm not sure if I do have the quote right; it could well be a mondegreen.
    – steveha
    Mar 28 at 6:10
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"From the freezer to the foil" isn't a common idiom, but it's a variation on a common phrase from cookbooks and advertising.

"From the freezer to the oven" is a phrase commonly used in describing foods that can be taken straight from the freezer and cooked without defrosting first: see Google Books for several references (Modern Freezer Meals, Ali Rosen, 2021; Don't Panic--More Dinner's in the Freezer, Susie Martinez et al, 2009; Mediterranean Harvest, Martha Rose Shulman, 2007; etc). "From the freezer to the oven to the table" was also an advertising slogan for CorningWare, a brand of cookware. (The advertisement was apparently quite well-known according to this blog, which has a video of a TV commercial).

Wrapping in aluminum foil is a common way of cooking in an oven, so substituting foil for oven would be a natural variation if you were looking for a rhyme, just as "roasting tin" or "fire" or "heat" might be. This would give Gabriel's "From the freezer to the foil".

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