How to Use the Hot Potato Idiom: A Guide to Understanding and Using This Popular Expression

The hot potato idiom is a commonly used phrase in the English language that refers to a difficult or controversial issue that people try to avoid. The idiom is used in a variety of situations, and it can be helpful to understand its meaning and usage to communicate effectively with others. In this article, we will explore the origins of the hot potato idiom, its meaning, and some examples of how to use it in conversation.

how do you use the hot potato idiom

What is the Hot Potato Idiom?

The hot potato idiom is a metaphorical expression that refers to a topic or issue that is controversial or difficult to handle. The term “hot potato” implies that the issue is so contentious that people want to avoid it or pass it on to someone else as quickly as possible. In other words, it is an issue that people don’t want to be associated with, because it could be politically, socially, or emotionally risky.

Where Did the Hot Potato Idiom Come From?

The origins of the hot potato idiom are uncertain, but it is believed to have originated in the United States in the early 1800s. The phrase may have been inspired by the game of hot potato, which involves passing a ball or object around quickly in order to avoid being caught with it when the music stops. The idiom became popular in the 20th century and is now commonly used in the English language.

Examples of How to Use the Hot Potato Idiom

Here are some examples of how to use the hot potato idiom in conversation:

  1. “I don’t want to touch that issue with a ten-foot pole. It’s a hot potato.”
  2. “The CEO of the company is trying to pass the hot potato of layoffs onto the HR department.”
  3. “The politician was asked about his controversial statements, but he quickly passed the hot potato to his spokesperson.”
  4. “The company’s financial problems have become a hot potato for the board of directors.”

Using the Hot Potato Idiom in Writing

The hot potato idiom can also be used effectively in writing, such as in news articles, opinion pieces, and social media posts. It can help to add color and emphasis to a statement, and to convey a sense of urgency or importance. Here are some examples of how to use the hot potato idiom in writing:

  1. “The controversial issue of immigration reform has become a hot potato for lawmakers in Washington.”
  2. “The recent scandal involving the company’s CEO has become a hot potato for shareholders and investors.”
  3. “The hot potato of gun control has once again come to the forefront of national debate after a recent mass shooting.”

Tips for Using the Hot Potato Idiom Effectively

Here are some tips for using the hot potato idiom effectively in conversation and writing:

  1. Use the idiom sparingly and appropriately, so as not to overuse it or dilute its impact.
  2. Consider the context and audience when using the idiom, and choose the right tone and level of formality.
  3. Use the idiom in a way that is clear and easy to understand, and avoid using it in a way that is confusing or ambiguous.
  4. Be prepared to explain the idiom to someone who may not be familiar with it, and provide context and examples to help them understand.


The hot potato idiom is a useful expression that can help to convey a sense of urgency or importance when discussing difficult or controversial issues. By understanding its meaning and usage, you can communicate more effectively with others and add color and emphasis to your conversations and writing.

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Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Camford Publishing
Founder of On the Horizon (camford publishing)and The Technology Source, and professor of education at North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Morrison is author and co-author of over 200 publications focusing on educational planning and using information technology tools.Dr. Morrison has delivered numerous conference presentations and workshops for associations such as EDUCAUSE, AAHE, the College Board and others.He has served as a planning consultant to a number of colleges, universities, university systems, community colleges, educational agencies and public agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor, and Department of the Army.His consulting activities focus on assisting organizations to integrate information technology tools in teaching and management.

The title of his Speech is “The Future of Distance Learning.” Professor Morrison will describe the driving forces that will affect education and distance learning in this decade and will focus on the implications of these forces for education and distance learning
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