Someone who criticizes another for a fault, even though the criticizer is guilty of doing the same thing.
Example: Dan went over to his brother’s house and saw a hamper overflowing with dirty laundry. There were shirts lying on the ground and in general, the place looked messy. So Dan told his brother: “You should keep this place more tidy, don’t you think? It’s a mess in here!” His brother agreed, but he also pointed out: “This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, because your place isn’t exactly spotless either.”
In other words, the brother was saying that it was hypocritical to call him out on his messy house when they were both guilty of doing the exact same thing.
The Origin Of ‘The Pot Calling The Kettle Black’
An idiom that involves a pot calling the kettle black. Why would it do that, and also, what does the word ‘black’ mean in this context? Let me try to explain:
When a cast-iron pot (or kettle) is held over a fire, its bottom will eventually darken. Why? The reason for this is because the flame that the pot is being held over causes soot to accumulate on the pot’s underside. What is soot? It’s a black powdery substance that rises from the smoke of a fire. So soot rises up and sticks to the bottom of the pot or kettle, turning it black.
Because this happens to both the pot and the kettle, it’s hypocritical of the pot to call the kettle black because a “fault” they both share. This phrase is thus used when accusing someone of hypocrisy; they are acting like the pot.
Now, let’s move on to another question: How old is this idiom? It’s earliest appearance in writing is said to be from a translation by Thomas Shelton of a Spanish novel called Don Quixote, 1620:
“You are like what is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, ‘Avaunt, black- brows’.”
As you can see from the quote, the wording of the phrase isn’t exactly as you would see it today. However, within that same century, in a book called Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn, 1693, the idiom can be seen with its modern phrasing:
“For a Covetous Man to inveigh against Prodigality, an Atheist against Idolatry, a Tyrant against Rebellion, or a Lyer against Forgery, and a Drunkard against Intemperance, is for the Pot to call the Kettle black.”
So this phrase is around 400 years old, at the very least.
“I went bowling with my friend yesterday, but instead of having fun together, his eyes were glued to his phone. I think it was rude of him to do that. What do you think, honey?”
“Oh, I agree. However, this is like the pot calling the kettle black, because you’ve been doing the same thing lately! You spend too much time on your phone instead of with me.”
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