Bunny Boiler : Phrases
An obsessive and dangerous female, in pursuit of a lover who has spurned her.
From the 1987 film Fatal Attraction, written by James Dearden and Nicholas Meyer. The plot concerns a woman scorned, Alex Forrest - played by Glenn Close, who obsessively pursues her ex-lover, Dan Gallagher - played by Michael Douglas. The phrase comes from the plot device where Forrest boils Gallagher's daughter's pet rabbit.
Gallacher's suspicions should have become aroused at Forrest's line when trying to persuade him to meet her - "Bring the dog, I love animals... I'm a great cook."
The bunny boiler phrase, taking the lead from the film, was first used to refer to someone who is unable to remain rational at the end of a romantic relationship. Very quickly that became moderated and used, with some degree of irony, in much less extreme situations. Any needy, mildly possessive or even just annoying woman is now liable to be described as a 'bunny boiler'.
As this is a recent phrase with such a clear origin it is interesting to trace who coined it and how it has found its way into popular use. The epithet isn't used in the film itself, nor any of the advertising blurb used to promote it. As to who coined it, I don't know. The first use of it in print is from an interview for the US magazine the Ladies' Home Journal, by Close herself, reported in the Dallas Morning News, 6th December 1990:
"There's nothing like portraying a psychopathic bunny-boiler to boost one's self-esteem, Glenn Close tells Ladies' Home Journal."
Popular phrases that have emerged as street slang since 1981 have quickly become used in Internet discussion groups and tabloid newspapers. Bunny boiler isn't found in the very large archive of Usenet groups until 1994, nor does it appear more than once or twice in the archives of US or British newspapers until 1994.
The section of the public that have now adopted the term into their language are young adults - and not those who would normally be expected to read the Ladies' Home Journal. It is now a commonplace on TV reality shows and soap operas. For example, in an August 2004 piece by Danielle Lawler and Emma Cox about the UK TV show Big Brother, headed Big Brother: Bunny Boiler we have:
And the love-struck Geordie has already warned her boyfriend Stuart Wilson 's army of female fans to stay away. She hissed: "I can be an extremely jealous girlfriend ... and Stu won't even be looking at another girl when he comes out. I can see how people think I'm a bunny boiler."
If the phrase were a commercial product then marketing people would say that it reached its target audience in 1994. It certainly saw a sudden and widespread use from then onwards and is now a commonly used phrase. The film was released in 1987, Close referred to the phrase in 1990, but the phrase only became widely used in 1994. Newly coined terms appear to spread in the community like viruses. When they reach a threshold of 'infection' of a large enough percentage of the population they spread rapidly. It appears that bunny boiler got to that point sometime in 1994.
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