The Meaning of Slow Burn: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will give you all of the knowledge you need on the idiom slow burn, including its meaning, word origin, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the phrase slow burn mean?

Slow burn is an idiom that, according to the American English Dictionary, means a gradual buildup or increasing feeling of a show of anger toward a boiling point, in opposition to an immediate outburst. This idiom relates to boiling water, in that it will slowly burn up until it bubbles over. It can also refer to a fire that is slow and steady to burn out, rather than going up in flames all at once. Urban Dictionary states that it can also be used to describe an insult that doesn’t sink in right away. With these insults, it does not register with the insulted right away, and they may not even realize they were insulted until hours later. Slow burn can also be used more generally, to describe anything that happens or develops slowly.

Slow burn is also a common way to describe romantic plots, whether in television shows, or in fanfiction. In these, the romance builds slowly over time, rather than happening quickly. In television shows, this may mean it can take multiple seasons for two characters to realize their feelings for one another. According to Premium Beat, in filmmaking, slow burn is a filmmaking style where plot, action, and scenes develop slowly toward a boiling point.

Slow burn fiction is popular on websites like or Archive of Our Own, colloquially known to is community members as AO3. According to It’s Not Just Fiction, a slow burn fanfiction is a story in which the author keeps the love interests apart and lets them slowly inch toward each other, giving the relationship time to develop, sometimes so slowly the reader becomes frustrated!

People enjoy reading this type of Fanfiction, or fic, because it is more realistic than a rushed story in which two characters fall in love instantly. This trope can often be paired with others, such as enemies to lovers, will they won’t they, or childhood friends to adult lovers. Fanfiction, according to Oxford Languages, is fiction set in an already-existing universe from a book, television series, or film, written by an unauthorized author for fun. These can not be sold because of copyright, but are readily accessible on the internet for fans to read.

Finally, Slow Burn is also a country song by Kacey Musgraves. According to Song Facts, she wrote the song in 2017 while appreciating the finer things in life on her porch. She believes the best things in life are a slow burn, coming to one quickly rather than all at once. She believes that things being a slow burn means one can enjoy the journey. One can apply this slow burn philosophy to many things: career, relationships, friends, and according to Musgraves, even the drink in her hand—“enjoy it, don’t knock it back.”

How can slow burn be used in a sentence?

Slow burn can be used in a variety of ways. The first is to describe a slow increase in anger. Rebecca and Raini are coworkers discussing their boss Jessie, who just yelled at all of them during a meeting.

Rebecca: What got into Jessie today? She was yelling at us all over nothing. We were back literally one minute late from lunch.

Raini: I think it was a slow burn. Two people came in late, then customers kept sending their drinks back, and corporate just called and said are numbers are lower than they expect. I think it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Rebecca: That makes sense. She’s under a lot of stress at the end of the year.

After work, Rebecca and Raini are at Rebecca’s house watching a show on a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu. They’re on the third season, and the two main characters have still not gotten together. They are frustrated but loving it.

Raini: Ugh, can’t they just kiss already?! We can all tell they’re meant for each other!

Rebecca: I know, this slow burn is killing me. But it’ll all be worth it!

Raini: I know. We have to be patient!

Slow burn is a common phrase that can be used in a variety of ways.

What are synonyms and antonyms of slow burn?

According to Thesaurus, the below are synonyms of slow burn:

  • Displeasure
  • Exasperation
  • Fury
  • Ire
  • Pique
  • Rage
  • Resentment
  • Scorn

What is the origin of the phrase slow burn?

According to The Free Dictionary, the phrase slow burn was first used in 1938. It has been frequently associated with comedian Edgar Kennedy. He is nicknamed “King of the Slow Burn” or “Master of the Slow Burn,” according to IMDb. He played a police officer with Laurel and Hardy, where he was often brought to a boiling point of anger by their antics.

The adjective slow comes from the Old English slaw, meaning inactive or sluggish, or Proto-Germanic slæwaz, meaning not clever, according to Etymonline. Its meaning of something that takes a long time has been in usage since the early 13th century.

The verb burn originates from the early 12th century, according to Etymonline. It stems from the word brennen, meaning to be on fire or inflamed. This comes from the Old Norse brenna which means to burn, It also may be from Old English bærnan, meaning to kindle, or beornan, meaning to be on fire. All of these come from Proto-Germanic, Middle Dutch, or other German and Gothic origins.

Overall, slow burn can either mean a gradual buildup of anger or romance, or can be used to describe anything that happens slowly over time rather than all at once. The idiom is fairly commonplace, and is even the name of a country song written and performed by Kacey Musgraves.