At the movies · Language

“The bunny boiler takes it to 11”

“The bunny boiler takes it to 11”. That phrase would have made no sense 30 years ago. It might not make much sense to you now.

I’m interested in how new words and phrases make it into common usage.

“Bunny boiler” has become a shorthand for the kind of person who seeks revenge after a break-up, or maybe, more generally, any ex-partner who seems a bit unhinged. It comes from the Glenn Close character in “Fatal Attraction”, who arrives unexpectedly in the happy family home of the character played by Michael Douglas and boils up their pet rabbit for dinner. You probably knew that already. That movie was released in 1987. How long did it take for the idea of a “bunny boiler” to make it into general conversation, without any kind of clarification? Nobody says, “Oh, she’s turned into a bunny boiler – you know, like that woman in Fatal Attraction”. I figure that it happened in the late 90s, ten years after the movie was released, when it had been on TV often enough for a critical mass of people to have seen it. Or is that just me, because I finally saw the film in 1998?

The same goes for “taking it to 11”, which came from “This is Spinal Tap”, released in 1984. Again I think this took until at least the late 1990s before it made it into common usage. There’s a trailer currently airing on the BBC that mentions it, and it’s even made it to children’s TV. The charming CBeebies Phonics show “Alphablocks” features two of its letters (“b” and “d”, playing bass and drums) “taking it to 11” at the end of a show.



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