The expression the pot calling the kettle black is an idiomatic phrase that people sometimes use to point out hypocrisy. It means that someone is criticizing another person for a fault they have even though the criticizer is also guilty of doing the same thing.
Example: Dan went over to his brother’s house and noticed how messy it was, so he told his brother: “You should keep this place cleaner, there’s stuff everywhere!” His brother agreed, but he also pointed out: “This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black because your place is not spotless either.”
In other words, he was saying it was hypocritical of Dan to criticize him for a messy house when Dan was also guilty of the exact same thing.
The Origin of ‘The Pot Calling The Kettle Black’
This idiom involves a pot calling the kettle black. What’s going on with this phrase and 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, the bottom eventually darkens. Why? Because the flame the pot is being held over causes soot, a black powdery substance, to accumulate under the pot. With enough time, the bottom of the pot can turn black.
This can happen to both the pot and the kettle, so it’s hypocritical of the pot to call the kettle black over this because they both share this “fault.” So when someone acts in a hypocritical way, they are acting like the pot in this phrase.
Anyway, how old is this idiom? According to The Phrase Finder, this expression is seen in a translation by Thomas Shelton of the novel 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 phrase is worded a bit differently. However, near the end of that century, there is an example of the idiom with similar wording to what it has today. This examples is from a book called Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn, 1693:
“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.”
In summary, this phrase is around 400 years old, at the least.
- I went bowling with my friend, but he had his eyes glued to his phone most of the time; how rude I thought! I told my wife about this and she said: “I agree that it’s rude. However, this is like the pot calling the kettle black because you sometimes do the same thing to me.”
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