Hot under the collar? Idiomatic phrases with ‘hot’.

by Liz Walter

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Sitting in my office in Cambridge UK, with cold, windy weather outside, it is nice to think about phrases containing the word ‘hot’. There are quite a lot of them, and this post looks at some of the most useful ones.

Let’s start with the phrase in the title. If someone is hot under the collar, they are angry and look as though they might lose their temper soon. We often use the verb get or become with this phrase.

I could tell that Henry was getting hot under the collar when the discussion turned to politics.

Similarly, someone who is (all) hot and bothered is angry, worried or upset about something. This phrase is often used when people are also physically hot, perhaps red in the face or sweating:

After getting lost and walking over a mile with our suitcases, we were all a bit hot and bothered.

If someone is in hot water, they are in a difficult situation, usually one in which they are likely to be criticized or punished. We also say that someone gets into hot water or that something they do lands them in hot water:

Laura is in hot water over tweets she sent attacking a colleague.

Errors in the company’s accounts have landed them in hot water with the tax authorities.

If something is too hot to handle, it is too difficult to deal with, for example because it is dangerous or very controversial. Similarly, if we describe a situation or a problem as a hot potato, we mean that it is very controversial and likely to cause a lot of argument or problems. Americans also call this a hot button (issue).

The editor decided that my story about the president was too hot to handle.

Student debt is a political hot potato.

There are several positive phrases with ‘hot’. If you describe someone or something as hot stuff, you mean that they are very skilful or of very high quality. When used of a person, it can also mean that they are very physically attractive. If someone is hot favourite (UK) hot favorite (US) to win a game or competition, people think it is very likely they will win, and if things sell/go like hot cakes, people buy them quickly because they are very popular:

She was hot stuff in her role as Catherine the Great.

Barcelona are hot favourites to win the cup.

These leather wallets are selling like hot cakes.

I hope you find these phrases useful. Look out for next month’s post on phrases with the word ‘cold’.

24 thoughts on “Hot under the collar? Idiomatic phrases with ‘hot’.

  1. Snehal

    This is the best way to learn idioms, especially focusing on a theme. Here the theme is “hot”. In this way, a few interested, non-native speakers, like me, can learn a lot. Thanks for posting such a useful piece of writing. Wonderful!

  2. Grey_Code

    You might want to change “When used of a person, it can also mean that they are very physically attractive” to “When used on* a person, it can also mean that they are very physically attractive”

  3. Fidier Rescia Alvarado

    I really appreciate your sharing useful and fascinating stuff. It plays an important role for non-native English speakers because it shows the idiosyncrasy of a language and its people.

  4. Thank you very much.
    “These leather wallets are selling like hot cakes.”
    I remember ‘selling like hot cakes’ was on an exam, and I chose a wrong answer to the question because I thought no one would touch HOT CAKES for the obvious reason: they are HOT HOT.

  5. oerradiy

    Thanks much for these idioms. Could you please let us know if these idioms or idioms in general are applicable to both English and American ? Thanks.

  6. Liz Walter

    Yes, I’m British but I try to say if something is different in US English, so if there is no comment, it should be safe to assume they’re used in both varieties.

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