pot·​boil·​er ˈpät-ˌbȯi-lər How to pronounce potboiler (audio)
: a usually inferior work (as of art or literature) produced chiefly for profit

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Potboiler draws its meaning from what was once the heartbeat of the home, the hearth and its boiling pot. In the days before modern conveniences, it was essential to maintain a fire within a home's hearth for warmth and domestic activities. In order "to make the pot boil" or "to keep the pot boiling" for cooking, one needed fuel, and to acquire fuel one typically needed an income. When artistic and literary works, especially inferior ones, became the means of keeping the pot boiling in some homes during the 19th century, it didn't take long for the literati to criticize such works as insignificant potboilers.

Examples of potboiler in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Although the show embraces some of the potboiler trappings of its source — Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 detective novel — Frank and Fontana elevate the material with espionage thrills and international intrigue while weaving in the sociopolitical tensions of mid-century Europe. Thomas Floyd, Washington Post, 17 Jan. 2024 The Arctic panoramas are almost a character themselves, but the show takes a strange turn mid-season into sci-fi/horror that might disappoint potboiler aficionados and procedural purists. David Faris, theweek, 14 Jan. 2024 Curators tell stories, and the Met could use more with a potboiler sensibility. Brian T. Allen, National Review, 21 Dec. 2023 Overcomplicated chronology is now a cliché of modern TV storytelling, but a good potboiler knows how to put a cliché to good use. Alison Herman, Variety, 14 Mar. 2024 Hands of the Ripper is a potboiler in the truest sense of the word. Declan Gallagher, EW.com, 16 Oct. 2023 In the midst of his professional renaissance, Downey met his future wife on the set of 2003's potboiler Gothika. Declan Gallagher, EW.com, 13 July 2023 The show’s sensibility is perfect for its upper-middle-brow home on Apple TV+: slicker and wittier than network potboilers in the 24 or CSI vein without trying to be quite as grittily realistic as something like The Wire or the peerless French spy drama The Bureau. J. Oliver Conroy, Washington Examiner, 12 Jan. 2024 Taking the form of a potboiler murder mystery, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is richly imagined. Jack Butler, National Review, 4 Nov. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'potboiler.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1783, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of potboiler was in 1783


Dictionary Entries Near potboiler

Cite this Entry

“Potboiler.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/potboiler. Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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