In Hot Water Meaning and Origin

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In hot water is an idiom that has been in use for over a hundred years. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom in hot water, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

To be in hot water means to be in trouble; to be in a dangerous situation; to be embroiled in difficulty. The expression in hot water can be used literally, of course, but is most often used figuratively.

The term was first used as an idiom in the 1530s; the exact origin is uncertain. It may be simply related to cooking and the fact that something put into hot water is boiled. It may be related to a practice from the medieval times in which an accused criminal or sinner underwent an ordeal of having his arm plunged into boiling water; if it the burn healed, he was deemed innocent.

Finally, the term in hot water may refer to a practice of pouring boiling water on intruders. Though the origin of the idiom is unknown, it has been popular for nearly 500 years.


She has long sought the Get and Simantov’s past refusals could potentially land him in hot water were he to return to Israel, according to the Times of Israel. (New York Post)

Over the weekend, one such tweet landed a northwest Ohio brewery in hot water. (Columbus Dispatch)

Garlic scam probe lands Thushan in hot water (Sri Lanka Mirror)