The icy history of the ‘apply cold water to burn’ meme

TikTok girls dancing to voicemails from sh*tty exes is a vibe
People on TikTok are subtly calling out abusive behavior.

See all Editor's Picks

The first thing you should do when you accidentally burn yourself—whether it’s by touching a hot curling iron or brushing up against scalding kitchen pan—is to apply cold water. It helps numb the pain and limits the extent of the damage.

And the first thing you should do when you see someone get burned on the internet, of course, is to share the “apply cold water to burned area” meme. There’s no better or faster way of reiterating that someone got thoroughly owned than by posting some variation of the familiar image macro.

burn meme Image via Know Your Meme

How did this idea originate, and when did it become a meme?

It’s become common parlance for disparaging jokes to be known as “burns.” The first example of a mean joke being equated to something fiery dates back to 1950, when the Friars Club in New York City held its first-ever “roast,” called such because it was the opposite of a “toast” or celebration. The idea of roasting friends became especially popular after the Friars Club began televising the events in the 1960s. Today, of course, they continue on in the form of the Comedy Central Roasts.

The slang of “burn” grew in the 1970s as a result of the roasts. In the early 2000s, the phrase re-emerged due to Ashton Kutcher’s character repeatedly using it on That ‘70s Show.

burn meme: Ashton Kutcher in That '70s Show GIF via Giphy

In fact, the word was added to Urban Dictionary in 2002 and gradually grew in popularity until it earned Word of the Day in 2005. Since then, “burn” has been a permanent fixture in the public lexicon.

So who was the clever person to introduce “cold water” to the phrase? According to KnowYourMeme, the burn meme first appeared May 12, 2012, in a FunnyJunk post by user oodlesandoodles with the accompanying text: “Hope they remembered to pour some cool water on that burn.”

first burn meme Screengrab via Know Your Meme

However, the first truly viral meme version came two days later, when the burn treatment response image was instead paired with this screenshot:

apply cold water to burn meme Photo via Imgur

The image was reposted to Reddit, 9gag, and The Lolbrary, rapidly spreading the meme. Since then, the “apply cold water” image has been paired with countless instances of “burn” examples.

The full phrase entered Urban Dictionary in 2013, with a definition provided by user “AsianInfestation”:

“When someone burns you, or you burn someone, some obnoxious person in the back would yell “APPLY COLD WATER TO BURNED AREA!” Because naturally, you or the other person just got burned… See roast or roasted . It’s basically just a stupid little statement to say to someone who just got burned by another person.”

Today, the meme is commonly used across every social hub on the internet. Searching the phrase yields results on every platform from Tumblr to DeviantArt to Imgur. On Facebook, for example, dozens of groups are dedicated to providing examples of burns in need of cold water, with the largest having over 18,000 likes. Wherever people are mean on the internet, you can be sure this meme won’t be far behind.

Apply cold water to burn meme Screengrab via Google Trends

 

Here are just a few of our favorite examples:

burn meme Screengrab via 9gag/Pinterest

 

burn meme Screengrab via Tickld/Pinterest

May you never be burned in such a way that you need cold water.

Grant Pardee

Grant Pardee

Grant Pardee is a writer and producer specializing in digital video, social media, and web culture reporting. He has produced videos for Fullscreen, SourceFed, and Funny or Die, and his work has been published by Vice, McSweeney's, and Rooster Teeth.