What Does To Boil Something Down Mean?

Boils Down To Meaning

Definition: To find the principal reason or main point of something.

This idiom means to compress or condense large amounts of information to one or two crucial points. It’s common to hear, “It all boils down to one thing…” meaning that no matter how many arguments one can make, there is really only one that is relevant. It’s a way to focus attention and not get distracted by irrelevant information.

In school or work, it is common for the student or employee to boil down large reports into more easily digestible pieces of information.

Origin of To Boil Something Down

boil down meaningIn cooking, boiling is a natural process of reducing a liquid to its essential ingredients. For example, you can boil down maple sap to make sugar, or seawater to get salt. You start with a large quantity of something and bring it down to a smaller, but more relevant, level.

This practice has been around for centuries and is documented in Thrilling Narratives of Mutiny, Murder, and Piracy by an unknown source in the early 1800s:

  • It was next quenched in their kettle, wherein they had boiled a quantity of flour down to the consistence of thin starch.

By the early 1900s, people were beginning to speak metaphorically about boiling something down to find its essential point.

Examples of To Boil Something Down

expression to boil downIn the modern day, boil something down is used to talk about getting the essential pieces of information out of a larger body of work.

One example of this is,

  • The boss wants me to boil the 10-page report down to one page.

In this example, the boss wants a shorter summary of the 10-page report.

More Examples

  • Oftentimes taxonomy (the study of how we classify organisms) boils down to semantics. –The Washington Post
  • It boils down to one thing: the economy must work for the people, and not the other way around. –ZME Science


The phrase to boil something down is to reduce information to its most important and central point.