Stirring the Pot – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Do you know someone who just loves to stir up situations and conflict, and would like to know the right term to call them out? The expression ‘stirring the pot’ has been in common usage in English for centuries. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The common term ‘stirring the pot’ is a type of figurative expression that usually means a person is causing undue conflict or strife.

The expression is most commonly used to point out the action of causing conflict, such as saying that “[they are] stirring the pot” to indicate that someone is causing unfortunate conflict.

The most common synonym for the expression ‘stirring the pot’ is that someone is meddling in someone else’s business.

The accepted usage of ‘stirring the pot’ according to most dictionaries accept that the phrase can refer to someone who is inflating a conflict between a group (or two or more people).

Because the meaning of the term ‘stirring the pot’ is accepted as figurative, there is no literal pot that is being stirred, but is used to mean that someone is meddling in the affairs of someone else.

The expression can also be used as ‘to stir the pot’ depending on the appropriate tense of what is being said.

There is no accepted plural use of the term ‘stirring the pot’ and it is not considered accepted to say that someone is “stirring the pots” as an alternative.

Example Usage

“If I say anything about what’s going on in their life right now, they’re just going to think that I’m stirring the pot and that the affair has got nothing to do with the rest of the world.”

“I think the whole point of the media stunt was just to stir the pot. I mean, almost everyone seems to be talking about them now like they’re some kind of Hollywood power couple.”

“If you go over there and give them a batch of cookies, you’re just going over there to stir the pot. You know they’re lactose intolerant, and they’re not really going to care about the cookies.”

“If you want to stir the pot, I know a great place where you can go for gossip that you can tell everyone else in the neighborhood.”


The term ‘stirring the pot’ and its first use is difficult to trace, and the origins of the term are heavily disputed by language experts.

From what is known about the term ‘stirring the pot’, it is likely to have originated somewhere in the 1700s, and then spread into more common use with the introduction of tools like the printing press, dictionary and the internet.

The implication of ‘stirring the pot’ is that someone’s interference (in another person’s affairs) causes further conflict. The term comes from times where cooking might have been handled by one, qualified chef (and where interference would not be looked on with kindness).

The term was entered into the website Urban Dictionary after 2007, although it’s known that the term was in popular use long before this. Its inclusion in Urban Dictionary is likely to have caused increased mentions on social media websites like TikTok and Instagram.

Phrases Similar to Stirring the Pot

  • Causing trouble

Phrases Opposite to Stirring the Pot

  • Mediate

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Stirring the pot
  • Stirred the pot
  • To stir the pot

Ways People May Say Stirring the Pot Incorrectly

There are several ways in which the term ‘stirring the pot’ might be used in the wrong way by someone who does not understand the meaning or the context of the term.

The term ‘stirring the pot’ is meant to be figurative and refers to the interference of one person in the affairs or personal business of another: there is no actual pot that is being stirred.

There is no plural use for the term, and it is not correct for someone to ‘stir the pots’ instead.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Stirring the Pot

The correct way to use the phrase ‘stirring the pot’ is to refer to situations where someone appears to be causing conflict, often between two parties or more.

The term ‘stirred the pot’ can be used to refer to the past tense, or someone could also say “to stir the pot” depending on the tense and context.

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