'In Hot Water': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on September 6, 2023

Did someone say that they’re 'in hot water' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In short:

  • ‘In hot water’ means to be in a difficult situation. Basically, it means you’re in trouble.

What Does 'In Hot Water' Mean?

If you find yourself ‘in hot water,’ it means that you’re in a dangerous or difficult situation.

Depending on the context, it can mean that you’re in a physically dangerous situation or in danger of fierce criticism.

Where Does 'In Hot Water' Come From?

Like many old English idioms, the precise origin of ‘in hot water’ isn’t known. Said to have originated in the 1600s, the practice that the phrase is referring to might be even older than that.

According to a mid-20th century source, A Hog on Ice, one theory is that people used to throw a kettleful of hot, boiling water on intruders when they were causing trouble. Essentially, this was a way of getting rid of unwelcome guests.

Examples of 'In Hot Water' In Sentences

How would 'in hot water' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “I can’t believe he looked through my diary when I wasn’t home. He’s really in hot water now!”
  • “My boss told me that if I jump the gun again on a project, I’m going to find myself in hot water.”
  • “Our neighbor has been causing us trouble for years. Now that she has caught the attention of the city for all of her code violations, she’s finding herself in some very hot water.”
  • “The amateur employee threw the entire organization into hot water when he started making statements to the press.”
  • “If we get stuck in traffic on our way to the airport, we’re going to be in hot water. Missing our flight would be a disaster.”

Quotes Using This Phrase

This idiom is so common that it appears in notable quotes from a number of historical and modern figures. Let’s look at some of the best-known quotes that incorporate this phrase.

“I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.”

- Gilbert K. Chesterton

“Human beings are like tea-bags. You don't know your own strength until you get into hot water.”

- Bruce Laingen

“Remember the steam kettle; though up to its neck in hot water it continues to sing.”

- Brownie Wise

“Life is a razor, you are always in hot water or a scrape.”

- John Updike

“Those who cook up stories will get into hot water.”

- Austin O’Malley

Hot water is my native element. I was in it as a baby, and I have never seemed to get out of it ever since.”

- Edith Sitwell

“A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Other Ways to Say 'In Hot Water'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'in hot water'?

Here are some options:

Final Thoughts About 'In Hot Water'

‘In hot water’ is an old idiom that means to be in trouble or danger. This can mean being in a physically dangerous or problematic situation or being at risk of receiving harsh criticism.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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