Go and boil your head


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Go and boil your head'?

An insult, of the form go and do something bad for yourself. Other examples are, go and play in the traffic and the more recent, and vehement, eat s*** and die.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Go and boil your head'?

This could be related to the fact that in South Pacific societies cooked food was ‘noa’ or the opposite of tapu (tapu is loosely translated as ‘sacred’, although it has a deeper meaning than that). The head was considered the most sacred part of the body and one doesn’t usually pat children on the head, or stroke a person’s hair. An exhortation to turn your head into cooked food was regarded as the greatest possible insult.

The earliest citations of the phrase in print in English don’t exactly support that derivation. The original meaning of the phrase was rather milder than it is now and relate to people who were told to stop promoting silly opinions, that is, don’t be so stupid. These example date from the 1930s. In the UK there’s a version of it in Compton MacKenzie’s satire on the British intelligence services, Water on the Brain, 1933:

“Go away and boil yourself”

In the USA, an edition of the San Mateo Times from May 1935 included:

“And now as to your other proposition, it’s out before it’s in. Go climb a tree. Go boil your head.”

 

Trend of go and boil your head in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.