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The Actual Meaning Behind the Idiom 'Pot Calling the Kettle Black'

Neha B Deshpande Mar 17, 2019
The idiom 'Pot Calling the Kettle Black' refers to a hypocrite, who mocks and criticizes others, despite the fact that he himself too is at fault. This post speaks more on this idiom and its origin.

Similar Idiom

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at others.
Humans are too quick to judge others. How often we label someone without realizing that we also do the same thing? Man often falls prey to hypocrisy. That is because, when we see the world through our eyes, and make a perception of what we see, we often fail to look at our own reflection.
The idiom, 'Pot Calling the Kettle Black' is used to express a similar kind of personality, who is quick to judge others, often oblivious of the fact that he too behaves in a similar way.

Meaning of the Idiom

The phrase means that someone is criticizing the opposite party about something of which that 'someone' is also guilty of. Most kitchenware during older times was made of cast iron, and was blackened easily by fire. Hence, the pot calling the kettle black will be hypocrisy, since they both are black.
An alternative meaning of the idiom also states that, the kettle is actually clean and spotless. The pot sees its own reflection on the shiny surface of the kettle, and he thinks that the kettle is black.

Origin of the Idiom

► This idiom's origin can be traced back to Cervantes' 'Don Quixote'/Thomas Shelton's 1620 translation of it.

"You are like what is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, 'Avant, black-browes'."

► In Shakespeare's 'Troilus and Cressida', 1606, a similar quote that said: "The raven chides blackness."


◉ Nancy complains about Janet's behavior to their teacher.
Teacher: Nancy, you better not complain about Janet's behavior. This is nothing but the 'pot calling the kettle black.'
◉ Betsy: Carrie, Natalie says you wear too much makeup.
Carrie: Oh, now this is like 'the pot calling the kettle black'! Ask her to look in the mirror to see the thick layer of make-up on her face.
◉ "Alice says Max is a liar!"

"Max says Alice is lying."

"They both are liars! They're a case of the 'pot calling the kettle black'."
◉ George's boss is annoyed with him for not completing the task on hand. George tells him, due to Fred's procrastination, the task was delayed.
His boss thunders back at him, "Fred says it's your fault. You say opposite. Talk about the 'pot calling the kettle black'.''
◉ Our politicians are the biggest hypocrites! They're too busy in blackening each others names. It is like the 'pot calling the kettle black'.

This idiom is also popularly used as 'Pot, Meet Kettle'. It has also been used in songs such as "Pot Can't Call the Kettle Black" by Jerry Jeff Walker, and "Pot Kettle Black" by Wilco.