The pot does eventually boil, it just takes some patience to wait it out. More specifically, it is the water in the pot that will boil. It would take a ridiculous temperature to turn a pot to liquid, let alone a gas.

I have watched a pot boil several times and it seems to follow the same order of events:
  1. A long period of little visually perceptible activity

    During this time the water temperature is rising towards the boiling point. There will be circulation of the water as the water at the bottom of the pot is heated more than the rest of the water and rises. This hotter water then mixes with the rest of the water and distributes its heat, raising the overall temperature of the water.

  2. Small bubbles form around the edge of the water's surface.

    The temperature of the pot itself is somewhat regulated by the water it contains. Heat transfers through the pot and into the water, but the water also helps to diffuse the heat of the pot. The bubbles are evidence that the pot itself is exceeding the boiling point, and the water touching it is beginning to boil. Since the water at the edges is already at the top, it has nowhere to rise to and little other water to diffuse its heat.

  3. All hell starts to break loose

    After the small bubbles form, rapidly rising currents of water disrupt the surface of the water in the center of the pot. These disruptions begin as an orange peel like ripple, similar to the surface of a dried pool of enamel. This pattern only lasts a short time before the currents begin to severely disrupt the surface though still not as bubbles. I haven't measured, but I imagine the temperature of this rapidly rising water is just below the boiling point. While the surface is rumbling, the bubbles on the side of the pot began to move below the surface towards the bottom of the pot.

  4. The water boils

    Finally, bubbles form from all parts of the water, evidence that the pot is now hot enough to heat any water touching the sides to beyond the boiling point and change it into gas. That gas, commonly known as steam, is seen as the bubbles rising through the rest of the water. The hotter the pot, the faster water changes. This is known as a rapid or rolling boil.

If you are interested in watching a pot boil, I suggest the following strategies:

  • Use a small pot.
  • Do not fill the pot completely with water, a small amount of water will work fine.
  • Try this late at night, an hour or so before you plan to go to sleep. For some reason, boiling seems to happen faster then, though it probably has more to do with lethargy on the part of the viewer.
This phrase is commonly used to admonish somebody's impatience. The suggestion is that if you agitate over something you're waiting for, it seems to take longer to happen.

The essence of this truism is that a pot of water will reach boiling point faster when covered with a lid. Lifting the lid to peek causes heat loss and prolongs the process.

How did this myth start?

There are a couple of theories. One is that one word has been removed from a previous version: "A watched pot never boils over." This phrase is very true, but there is some evidence against this phrase ever being in use (ie. Mary Barton (1848) by Elizabeth Gaskell). Another version (and the one which I feel is the most believeable) stems from when pots were so large that, to be checked, they needed to be taken off the fire periodically. This caused them to lose temperature and take a lot longer to boil.

Then again, there's always the theory that the phrase is supposed to be taken literally, in which case it is the actual pot that is supposed to boil, as opposed to the water within. In that case, the surrounding temperature would be so high that a human would be killed almost immediately, and it would be impossible to watch it, let alone watch it boil. (Conversely, watching it would also mean watching and regulating the temperature, allowing the pot to stay unboiled.)

Anyhow. I, personally, say WATCH THE FUCKING POT!!!1! Too late. Dinner's served ruined.

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