The pot calling the kettle black

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The phrase "The pot calling the kettle black" is an idiom used to claim that a person is guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another.

Interpretations and origins[edit]

As generally understood, the person accusing (the "pot") is understood to share some quality with the target of their accusation (the "kettle"). The pot is mocking the kettle for a little soot when the pot itself is thoroughly covered in it.

An alternative interpretation, recognised by some,[1][2] but not all,[3] sources is that the pot is sooty (being placed on a fire), while the kettle is clean and shiny (being placed on coals only), and hence when the pot accuses the kettle of being black, it is the pot’s own sooty reflection that it sees: the pot accuses the kettle of a fault that only the pot has, rather than one that they share.

A poem in an early-twentieth-century school textbook runs:

"Oho!" said the pot to the kettle;
"You are dirty and ugly and black!
Sure no one would think you were metal,
Except when you're given a crack."

"Not so! not so!" kettle said to the pot;
"'Tis your own dirty image you see;
For I am so clean – without blemish or blot –
That your blackness is mirrored in me."

Maxwell's Elementary Grammar, 1904, [citation needed]

Similar phrases[edit]

In other languages[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, by William Morris, Mary Morris
  2. ^ Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1870, revised by Adrian Room (Millennium Edition)
  3. ^ Pot in Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, by E. Cobham Brewer, 1898 edition
  4. ^ Francisco Rodríguez Adrados, History of the Graeco-Latin fable I, Brill, Leiden NL 1999, p.146
  5. ^ Folklore and Fable vol.XVII, New York 1909, p.30
  6. ^ The Words of Ahiqar: Aramaic proverbs and precepts, Syriac Studies site
  7. ^ "Matthew 7:3–5 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust..."". (New International Version). 
  8. ^ "Matthew 7:3". (King James Version). Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Simpson, J. A., ed. (1982). "Those who live in GLASS houses shouldn't throw stones". Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Oxford University Press. p. 92. ISBN 0-19-281880-5. 
  10. ^ Shakespeare, William. "2:3". Troilus and Cressida. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  11. ^ Original text at Chinese version of wiktionary[unreliable source?]
  12. ^ "Kas Yra Puoadas?". Retrieved 23 February 2014. [dead link]
  13. ^ "Râde ciob de oală spartă.". 2004–2-2014. Retrieved 24 February 2014.  (A Romanian-English dictionary)
  14. ^ "A Misleading Image of Sukarno.". Retrieved 5 March 2014.