Green’s Dictionary of Slang

hot potato n.1

also hot potato jacket, hot spud

1. (orig. US) a problem, a difficult person, a trying situation, anything those concerned would prefer not to handle.

[US]Kaleidoscope New Ser. II 40/1: That you altogether pass over the inconsistency with which you stand taxed [...] especially with regard to Mr. Bass: you prudently drop that subject, as Pat says, ‘like a hot potato’.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 25: Potato, drop it like a – to drop any thing suddenly.
[US]R.H. Dana Two Years before the Mast (1992) 200: If anyone got into an argument with him, they would call out – ‘Ah, Jack! you’d better drop that, as you would a hot potato, for Tom will turn you inside out before you know it’.
[UK]C. Reade It Is Never Too Late to Mend 1 92: Then the old man took up one of Meadows’s books. ‘Australia! ah!’ grunted Merton, and dropped it like a hot potato.
[UK]Western Gaz. 14 Mar. 4/2: The pangs of a guilty conscience pricked him, and he dropped the bag [...] like a man would drop a hot potato.
Gallipolisd Jrnl (OH) 22 Apr. 2/3: Don’t pursue the subject. Drop it like a hot potato.
[[UK]Morn. Post (London) 22 Nov. 5/2: They dropped the Game laws as a person would drop a hot potato].
[UK] ‘’Arry on ’onesty’ in Punch 31 Jan. 60/1: But they’re droppin’ it, Charlie, they’re droppin’ it, like other moral ’ot taters.
[US]Progress (Shrieveport, LA) 9 Oct. 11/1: The tax voted for the great Coushatta central will be a hot potato when Mr Edenborn fingers it.
[US]Coconino Sun (Flagstaff, AZ) 21 Mar. 3/3: Let us see to it that the [...] government tries not to give us any razzle-dazzle racket; if they do we will drop the whole business like a hot potato.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ I’m from Missouri 35: Bunch hit me with a hot potato when I wasn’t looking and I choked up.
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 19 June 8/1: The newspapers dropped the [...] story like a hot potato.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 155: Member of the corporation too. Egging raw youths on to get in the know. All the time drawing secret service pay from the castle. Drop him like a hot potato.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Hot potato jacket, a chiseling, selfish, worthless person.
[US]W. Winchell On Broadway 12 June [synd. col.] The Republican press had itself a very hot potato when Gov. Lehman [...] accused that party of pinching the budget so much that schools have to suffer.
[US]B. Schulberg What Makes Sammy Run? (1992) 163: He drops the hot potato in the supervisor’s lap and runs again.
[US]L. Uris Battle Cry (1964) 104: We had a hot potato on our hands.
[Aus]G. Casey Snowball 190: Such ingratitude [...] would have made him drop Jack Dempsey in his heyday like a hot spud.
[US]J. Kirkwood There Must Be a Pony! 32: They dropped her like a hot potato.
[Aus]F.J. Hardy Outcasts of Foolgarah (1975) 108: The Board of Authors [...] dropped Borky like a hot spud.
[US]L. Kramer Faggots 165: The only question that remained was when to purvey the hot potato now residing in his back left Levi pocket to his Pop.
[Aus]T. Winton Human Torpedo 63: That’s it. She’s gonna drop me like a hot spud.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 8 Mar. 12: Traffic management schemes are such rural hot potatoes.
Guardlian On Line 11 Oct. [Internet] Second only to the economy, the NHS will be the next election’s hot potato.

2. in attrib. use of sense 1, problematic.

[UK]Guardian G2 4 Jan. 3/2: This acount of the hot-potato crisis that led to the death of the US ambassador to Libya.

3. (US) an admirable, clever or energetic person [hot adj. (8b) + potato n. (1)].

[US]W.T. Call Josh Hayseed in N.Y. 62: ‘Don’t you think I’m a greenhorn,’ I says, ‘becuz if you do you’ll find me a plaguey hot pertater to handle.’.
[US]Mohave County Miner (AZ) 29 Aug. 5/1: He was broadly esteemed a hot potato.
[US]Ade Forty Modern Fables 181: I have told myself at times that I was a fairly Hot Potato.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ You Can Search Me 104: I met a certain old party this morning who thinks you are very hot fried parsnips!
Mountain Advocate (Barbourville, KY) 4 Feb. 3/2: Ed Tucker, Norton’s ‘hot potato’.
[UK]Wodehouse Clicking of Cuthbert 14: She had taken him at his own valuation as an extremely hot potato.
[US]C. Heath A-Team 2 (1984) 146: Gimme the radio, hot patato.

In exclamations

take a red-hot potato! (also hold your hot-potato!) [the effect of a red-hot potato in the mouth]

be quiet! shut up!

[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open 119: Potato, red hot, take a, a word by way of silencing a person, a word of contempt.
[US]Z.N. Hurston Bone of Contention (1995) 977: Jes’ hold yo’ hot potater, Brother Simms, Ahm comin’ tuh dat part right now.