The Pot Calling the Kettle Black – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a saying to describe someone being a hypocrite? You could use the phrase “the pot calling the kettle black” to describe the speaker’s hypocritic judgment. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

When you use the expression, “the pot calling the kettle black,” you’re pointing out the hypocrisy of someone’s statement.

The person speaking will be accusing someone or judging them for something they too have done themselves in the past. It’s a way of telling the person that they need to let their actions match their words.

Example Usage

“Look at Tim berating Ben for forgetting to bring up the screen during the podcast when he forgets to do the same thing half the time. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.”

“So, you’re giving her a hard time for doing the same thing that got you in trouble last week? It seems we have the pot calling the kettle black.”

“This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. You made the same mistake last week, and weren’t you glad no one came down on you as hard for making it?”

“The president is on TV accusing the other countries’ leaders of war crimes when he’s responsible for them himself. It looks like the pot calling the kettle black again.”

“Sylvia is disciplining Karen for forgetting to do the stocktake again. I don’t know how she can do it with a straight face after she forgot it last week herself. I guess it’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

Origin

The expression “the pot calling the kettle black” originates from a time when people would cook over a fire, causing the oxidation of smoke under the pots and pans, leading to a layer of back soot on the bottom.

This problem happens to all cast iron cookware. There is no need to single out one for offering less performance than the other. They both share the same fault.

Thomas Shelton translated the novel Don Quixote in 1620, where the first iteration of the saying appears in archaic language as follows.

“You are like what is said that the frying pan said to the kettle, ‘Avaunt, black- brows.’”

Another example comes from the book “Some Fruits of Solitude” by William Penn, published in 1693, where the saying appears as follows.

“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.”

Phrases Similar to The Pot calling the Kettle Black

  • People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
  • It takes one to know one.
  • Pot meet kettle.

Phrases Opposite to The Pot calling the Kettle Black

  • A thief knows a wolf.
  • Righteous indignation.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The pot calling the kettle black.

Ways People May Say The Pot calling the Kettle Black Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with pots and kettles or with the color black. The pot and kettle are the two parties engaged in conversation. “Calling them black” refers to the person handing judgment down on the other for something they did wrong when they are also guilty of the same transgression.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase The Pot calling the Kettle Black

You can use the phrase “the pot calling the kettle black” when you’re trying to draw the speaker’s attention to their hypocrisy. The saying suits professional and social use in any scenario where you feel the person laying judgment on another should heed their own words.

You could use it at home if your partner tells you that you forgot something when they forgot something earlier, and you didn’t make a big deal out of it. You could use it at work to say to a colleague that they also messed up a few weeks ago, and they need to give you some space.

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