“Poor frog” is what I always think when I hear this expression.
The theory behind it is that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water it will jump out immediately, reacting to the heat. But if you put a frog into tepid water and then heat the water very gradually the frog won’t react to the increased temperature.
I don’t know who is boiling all all these frogs but the metaphor works; people will stay in unpleasant or unhealthy situations despite warning signs because they rationalise the warning signs or convince themselves that things will get better -somehow. It’s often used to remind you to take action when you sense things are not going well; as Henna Inam wrote in a Forbes article “Do something about it when something smells funny. Even if it’s not on your job description, it’s your job.”
But scientists who study frogs (without boiling them I trust) say that it’s a myth.
- a frog dropped in boiling water would be hurt or possibly killed before it could leave the pot of boiling water.
- a frog in tepid water that was gradually heated would sense the change in temperature and would get out of the water before getting hurt.
So the science is off, but the metaphor works.