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'In The Hot Seat' Is Not Where You Want to Be

FILE - If a cat scratches your furniture, it may find itself "in the hot seat." But the cat pictured here is not concerned. It's a customer at the first cat cafe in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, April 21, 2015. (AFP PHOTO /ANP / KOEN VAN WEEL)
'In The Hot Seat' Is Not Where You Want to Be
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And now, Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.

Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation – one where you had to explain yourself; where you felt like all eyes are on you; and where others were questioning your actions?

If so, you may have been in the hot seat! That is our expression for today.

The “hot seat” is not a nice place to be. To be in the hot seat can be used in several different situations.

It can be a situation where you need to defend yourself or share information. If you are questioned by the police or a detective, you are definitely in the hot seat.

A difficult job interview or school exam can also make you feel like you’re in the hot seat. It can be an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation.

If you are in the hot seat, someone may be closely observing your movements and actions.

For example, parents often put their children in the hot seat. They may want to know where they go, who they are with, and what they are doing. These questions could feel like an interrogation. As with the earlier police example, an interrogation and being in the hot seat go hand in hand.

Teachers and school officials can also put students in the hot seat. If students are accused of doing something like cheating on a test or damaging school property, a teacher might put them in the hot seat to get information.

The “hot seat” can also be a position of uneasiness or embarrassment. For this situation, we have another saying. If you put someone on the spot, you have also put them in the hot seat. For example, let’s say my best friend is married to a man who isn’t very honest. When I see Mr. Dishonest at a restaurant holding hands with another woman, I could put him in the hot seat by asking, “So … what’s going on? here”

If you are in the hot seat, you may also be faced with severe criticism or judgement. At work, you may find yourself in the hot seat if you fail to finish a project on time.

Here’s another example. Let’s say Alice is in charge of the company’s yearly party. It is a big deal for employees and their families. But she told everyone the wrong date. So, when no one showed up, she found herself in the hot seat with her boss.

Notes on usage

Here are some notes on usage.

In this idiom, we use the definite article “the” and not the indefinite article “a.” So, we don’t say someone was “in a hot seat.”

Now, let’s talk about the preposition “in.” Some online dictionaries give examples of this idiom using the preposition “on” – to be on the hot seat. I commonly hear in the hot seat and not on the hot seat. Both are correct. But in the hot seat sounds more natural.

The usage of this idiom goes back to the early 1900s. Some word experts say that it may have come from the use of electric chairs for executions. Other experts say the idiom may come from the card game poker. In poker, players in the "hot seat" are under the most pressure to bet or play their cards.

And that’s all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories. Until next time ...

I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

interview – n. a formal consultation usually to evaluate qualifications (as of a prospective student or employee)

interrogation – n. a formal and systematic questioning

go hand in hand - idiomatic phrase in close association

cheat – v. to use unfair or dishonest methods to gain an advantage

embarrassment – n. state of feeling self-consciously confused or distressed

execution – n. a putting to death especially as a legal penalty


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