It Never Ends: The Boiling Frogs


I'm not waging a crusade here any more. Just noting the persistence of a cliche.* 

Thomas Friedman, NYT, June 20 2010:

Up to now, Erdogan has been very cunning, treating his opponents like frogs in a pail, always just gradually turning up the heat so they never quite knew they were boiling. But now they know.

Canadian journalist Don Newman, June 17, 2010:

But will most Canadians recognize that importance and the sacrifices and adjustments they may have to make? Or will they continue to accept a slowly declining standard of living vis-a-vis the U.S. and many other emerging counties? At this point, we are rather like that frog in a slowly boiling pot of water. At first the warming water is pleasant. By the time it comes to a boil, it is too late for the frog to do anything about it.

If you're going to talk boiled frogs, how you should do it, via Paul Krugman, here. Why I gave up my crusade (but still notice cliches) here. Back from when I was on the crusade here. Policy point: while this homily isn't "true," it will become true-ish by usage, since apparently it fills such a narrative need. That is all.


* Wrote this item late last night and had set it for delayed posting this evening, to avoid an unseemly pile-up of posts. But I'd already gotten so many helpful messages about the Tom Friedman column by 9am this morning that the time seemed right. Also, with the boiled-frog now having appeared in NYT columns by Gail Collins, Krugman (with important caveat that it's a myth), and now Friedman, I'll start an NYT Op-Ed Boiled Frog Bingo card, which I'll fill in as Brooks, Herbert, Dowd etc take their turns. I confess that I'll worry if Verlyn Klinkenborg devotes one of his nature essays to frogs in a pot. 

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?

Elsewhere on the web


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Technology

From This Author

Just In