The truth about the watched pot boiling
are saying that cooks should not ignore pots, which hold liquid being
heated to boil.
I had this great thought while I was cooking the most muffonious member
of a four-pack of Thomas English Muffins. As I looked into the toaster
slots, I saw the muffin becoming golden brown. I popped it up. You see,
my grand plan for the morning of March 5, 2002, was to slather both sides
of the muffin with plain cream cheese and black cherry Polander All Fruit
(its really like jelly but that company is touchy about the comparison).
Before the slathering, there had to be some toasting.
As I popped up the muffin, which of course had been cut in two before
insertion into the toaster, I wondered. (Yes, I am great and wonderful;
so, it is only natural that I am full of wonder.) I wondered what would
have happened if I had let the muffin cook until the toaster sprang the
muffin out of the slots on its own. That is when the proverbial old saying
dawned upon me, A watched pot never boils. I had decided long
ago that physics demands water to boil at a certain temperature (100 degrees
Celsius at sea level). Time (never, is the time in the case of this proverb)
is not a factor if a person gets water to that temperature. Watching the
pot does not prevent the water in the pot from boiling.
There has been some discussion about the impact of observation upon experiments.
For instance, in his abstract titled Quantum decay: A watched pot boils
quicker, Peter W. Milonni wrote, The quantum Zeno effect is the
idea that the decay of an unstable quantum state - such as a radioactive
atom - can be stopped by frequently repeated observations.
It is now suggested that the exact opposite effect may be more common.
Nonetheless, while Milonni is arguing that a watched pot may boil more
quickly, I am going to reveal the truth of from whence comes the saying,
A watched pot never boils. The traditional translation of
the saying is that there is value in having patience. Waiting for the
liquid in a pot to come to boil can seem interminable. Depending on the
truth of the theory about observation speeding up atomic activity, literally,
boiling takes the same amount of time whether the pot is watched or not.
The proverb has been traced back to Elizabeth Gaskell's 'Mary Barton'
(1848), and is first cited in the United States in 'Puzzle of the Pepper
Tree' (1933) by S. Palmer, and from Random House Dictionary of Popular
Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman, according to one website.
Some people say the phrase has nothing to do with boiling over.
By the way, when I was watching the muffin cook and I was thinking about
the old saying, I extrapolated that a watched muffin will brown. In fact,
an unwatched muffin may burn.
To confirm my thoughts about burning muffins, and pots boiling over versus
pots never boiling, I looked at a northern U.S. fire department.
A watched pot never boils over, according to a writer who
posted the following on a Peabody, Massachusetts Fire Department website.
Fully 73 percent of the 2,085 fires studied occurred when cooks
left the room while food was on the range or in the oven, according to
a 10-city study on the behavioral causes of household cooking fires conducted
by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and the National
Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM). Unattended cooking was the
leading cause of such fires, the study found. Firefighters are saying
that cooks should not ignore pots, which hold liquid being heated to boil.
While Titelman, Palmer, Gaskell and others may say A watched pot
never boils, it is my contention that this very proverb became popular
after a mistake in a radio transmission during WWII.
It was customary during radio communications back then, to end all statements
by saying the word over, so that the listener would know when
he or she could transmit their reply to the previous speaker. Luckily,
I discovered a taped radio transmission from 1944, when a B-52 was taking
off for an eight-hour training mission. The text of that conversation
This is Captain Kenneth Daltry in B-52 Echo-Echo calling base Tango.
Roger Daltry. This is Tango. Over.
Roger Tango. We have a crewman on board who says he may have left
some eggs boiling at the base. He was planning on coloring them for Easter.
He wants to give the colored eggs to orphans and street urchins later.
Roger Daltry. Which crewman? Who? Over.
Roger Tango. His name is Townsend Moon.
Roger Daltry. Is this the Townshend Moon who lived over near Miami?
Roger Tango. Thats him. They nicknamed him the Moon over Miami.
He likes to dance, remember? Over.
Roger Daltry. What is that dance he likes to do? Over
Roger Tango. Tango. He likes to tango over and over. Over.
Roger Daltry. Very good. He is clearly identified so that we know
this is no bogus radio transmission from the enemy. Over
Roger Tango. Can someone there turn off the burner below the boiling
pot of water? Over.
Roger Daltry. There is a guy here named Bill Will who can do this.
Roger Tango. So, Bill Will will do this? Over.
Roger Daltry. Yes. Will said to let you know that if Moon over Miami
had watched over his own eggs there would be no fire hazard. As Will says,
A watched pot never boils over. Over.
Roger Tango. Will pass on Wills words to Moon. While Will
will do this, I hope he doesnt have to do his job over, given the
urgency of his doing this boiling pot job now. Over.
Roger Daltry. Will will do, and he will not have to do his current
job over. Over.
Roger Tango. Over and out.
Roger Daltry. Over and out.
Somehow, when Capt. Daltry passed on Bill Wills famous words, he
forgot that the first over was part of the quote.
Hence, the phrase, A watched pot never boils came into being
rather than the correct version, which is A watched pot never boils
'Shaggy Dog' Jeff Hardison 2002
St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.A.
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