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Gone to pot and other "pots"

Posted by James Briggs on August 18, 2000

In Reply to: Gone to pot posted by Bruce Kahl on August 18, 2000

: : anybody know the roots of this expression?
: : a full-on family dispute has erupted as a result of differing explanations and we are in desperate need of
: : some authority to clear it up...many thanks in advance.

: An authority? I dont think so!

: Around 1542, when the phrase first appeared, "to go to pot" was to be cut up like chunks of meat destined for the stew pot. Such a stew was usually the last stop for the remnants of a once substantial cut of meat or poultry, so "going to pot" made perfect sense as a metaphor for anything, from a national economy to a marriage, that had seen better days. Early uses of the metaphor were usually in the form "go to the pot."

Pot: To take pot luck is to be offered a choice from what's available and not from what you might wish. It goes back to the days when a cooking pot was always on the fire. An unexpected guest was welcome to eat but only from what was on offer in the pot. To take a pot shot has the same basis - to shoot at game in general in order to get something for the pot rather shooting at a specific type of animal.
If someone has gone to pot then they are thought to have deteriorated or declined from their previous status. The pot here is the melting pot into which valuable pieces of stolen silver and gold were remelted. They had gone to pot never to re-appear again. In spite of this probable origin, it is quite possible to relate the saying to the cooking pot described above. Who knows?