Potboiler or pot-boiler is a term used to describe a poor quality novel, play, opera, or film, or other creative work that was created quickly to make money to pay for the creator's daily expenses (thus the imagery of "boil the pot" [wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn] , which means "to provide one's livelihood" [The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company] ). Authors who create potboiler novels or screenplays are sometimes called hack writers. Novels deemed to be potboilers may also be called pulp fiction or "page-turners", and potboiler films may be called "popcorn movies" or, in film industry slang, "tentpoles" (large-budget films typically based on well-known characters or prior works, which, due to their immense popularity, support the studio economically, like tent poles hold up a tent). The term was first used by Frank Mancuso, head of Paramount Pictures (and former distribution chief).

Etymology and usage

High culture

"In the more elevated arenas of artistry such a motive...was considered deeply demeaning."http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-pot1.htm "Potboiler" at World Wide Words] If a serious playwright or novelist's creation is called a potboiler, this has a negative connotation that suggests that it is a mediocre or inferior-quality work. An early usage of the term that has this sense is in "Putnam’s Monthly Magazine" of New York, dated 1854: “He has not carelessly dashed off his picture, with the remark that ‘it will do for a pot-boiler’”. Similarly, Jane Scovell's "Living in the Shadows" states that "...the play was a mixed blessing. Through it O'Neill latched on to a perennial source of income, but the promise of his youth was essentially squandered on a potboiler."

In an early-1980s "Time" review of a book by Andrew Greeley, the author called his novel "Thy Brother's Wife" a "...putrid, puerile, prurient, pulpy potboiler." [The Luck of Andrew GreeleyMonday, Jul. 12, 1982 By MAYO MOHS Article ToolsPrintEmailReprints THY BROTHER'S WIFE by Andrew M. Greeley; Warner; 350 pages; $14.95 ] In the late 1990s, American author and newspaper reporter Stephen Kinzer referred to potboilers in this derogatory sense: "If reading and travel are two of life's most rewarding experiences, to combine them is heavenly. I don't mean sitting on a beach reading the latest potboiler, a fine form of relaxation but not exactly mind-expanding." ["Traveling Companions," [2] New York Times, April 19, 1998]

A definition of potboiler fiction from the 2000s captures the sense that it is an inferior grade of writing; in a Publishers Weekly article, author David Schow called potboilers fiction that "... stacks bricks of plot into a nice, neat line." [From Splatterpunk to Bullets. Publishers Weekly Talks with David Schowby Stefan Dziemianowicz. Publishers Weekly, 10/6/2003]

Popular culture

However, for more popular genres, such as action thriller films or detective novels, the term "potboiler" does not have such negative connotations. Indeed, a review praising a thriller film or detective novel may effusively call the work an excellent "potboiler". In a 2007 review of the 1972 Sam Peckinpah film "The Getaway", starring Steve McQueen, the review calls it "... a '70s outlaws-on-the-run potboiler; a poor man's Bonnie and Clyde. That doesn't make it a bad film; it's actually a good potboiler. But it does stand out in both the McQueen and Peckinpah canons as a primarily commercial, and not artistic, venture. It's neither artist's finest moment, but there's certainly no reason for them to be embarrassed by the film." [ [ 403 Forbidden ] ]

One well-known potboiler is "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. [ [http://www.mcchorus.org/prognt06.htm Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia - Program Notes] ] Television host Mike Wallace used the term while interviewing writer Rod Serling about his upcoming show, "The Twilight Zone". At that time, science fiction writing was widely considered amateurish and juvenile, and Wallace questioned whether or not Serling was moving away from "serious" writing. However, Serling's series became an influential part of television. [Sander, Gordon F.:Serling: The Rise And Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.]

ee also

*Airport novel
*Pulp fiction

Sources and notes

Further reading

* [http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-pot1.htm "Potboiler" at World Wide Words]
* [http://www.potboiler.no The Potboiler, a Norwegian blog written in English]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Potboiler — Pot boil er, n. A term applied derisively to any literary or artistic work, and esp. a painting, done simply for money and the means of living. [Cant] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • potboiler — 1864, in the literary sense, from POT (Cf. pot) (1) + BOIL (Cf. boil). The notion is of something one writes solely to put food on the table …   Etymology dictionary

  • potboiler — ► NOUN informal ▪ a book, film, etc. produced purely to make the writer or artist a living by catering to popular taste …   English terms dictionary

  • potboiler — [pät′boi΄lər] n. a piece of writing, a painting, etc., usually inferior, done quickly and for money only …   English World dictionary

  • Potboiler — Als Potboiler oder Pot Boiler wird eine künstlerische Arbeit bezeichnet, bei der die Intention im Vordergrund steht, schnelles Geld zu verdienen oder ein dauerhaftes bzw. stabiles Einkommen zu sichern. Es kann sich dabei um literarische Werke,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • potboiler — UK [ˈpɒtˌbɔɪlə(r)] / US [ˈpɑtˌbɔɪlər] noun [countable] Word forms potboiler : singular potboiler plural potboilers a book, film etc that was created only to make money …   English dictionary

  • potboiler — {n.} A book, play, or film written for the primary purpose of earning money for the author. * / Reading a cheap potboiler helps me go to sleep, the professor wryly remarked./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • potboiler — {n.} A book, play, or film written for the primary purpose of earning money for the author. * / Reading a cheap potboiler helps me go to sleep, the professor wryly remarked./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • potboiler — noun A book, play, or film written for the primary purpose of earning money for the author. Reading a cheap potboiler helps me go to sleep, the professor wryly remarked …   Словарь американских идиом

  • potboiler — [[t]pɒ̱tbɔɪlə(r)[/t]] potboilers also pot boiler N COUNT (disapproval) If you describe a book or film as a potboiler, you mean that it has been created in order to earn money quickly and is of poor quality …   English dictionary