hot potato


a hot potato


  • any subject which several folks are talking about and which is frequently argued
  • something that is hard or terrible to handle
  • a ​problem or ​situation that is ​difficult to ​deal with and ​causes a lot of ​disagreement
  • an issue or question about which people have different opinions and feel very strongly
  • a controversial situation that is awkward to deal with
  • a delicate or contentious matter which many people do not want to talk about

Example Sentences

  1. The issue of gun control is a political hot potato in the United States.
  2. The legality of abortion is a hot potato in many countries around the world.
  3. I never discuss about anyone’s religion, it can be a hot potato.
  4. The party members are not speaking on this topic as it is a political hot potato.
  5. The government’s decision to curb benefits to some sections of society is like a hot potato.


The term originated in the mid 1800s and is derived from the slightly older term “to drop like a hot potato”, meaning “to abandon something or someone quickly”. It alludes to the fact that cooked potatoes retain considerable heat because they contain a lot of water.

Share your thoughts9 Thoughts

The key thing about this idiom, that is missing here, is that the hot potato is something that no one wants to deal with and it gets passed from person to person or organisation to organisation, or similar. This is why it is a *hot* potato, no one wants to hold it for long.

- Jacqui (native British speaker) June 22, 2023

How did the phrase turn into a children's game?

- Anonymous April 7, 2022

My mother always said "drop like a hot potato" for topics, positions or obligations. It was frequently used for political positions that seemed like they could become popular but didn't pan out. The Trump impeachment is starting to look like a hot potato. My Dad would get a hot potato to put in his pocket on his way to school. It would keep him warm and he would eat it for lunch.

- Karen Scott February 16, 2021

There appears to be two specific forms of this phrase? None of the examples seem to match with the version that's described in the origin. Did it diverge at some specific point?

- J October 25, 2020

Can we use this for people?

- Shabistan September 3, 2020

Hello Manal, More formal ways of saying: It's a hot potato, are:

  • It's a controversial subject.
  • It's a sensitive subject.
  • It's likely to cause disagreement.
  • It could upset people.
  • It's risky for everyone involved.

- Fiona Mackenzie December 18, 2017

Is there is any other idiom that is equal to the meaning of hot potato but formal?

- Manal December 18, 2017

Hmm.... Ram Rahim topic is really like a hot potato in India.

- Swati September 25, 2017

Could I say " no way, I won't talk to the boss about the pay rise; are you trying to pass me the hot potato?

- Chris September 24, 2017

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