Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Meaning of Idiom ‘Pot Calling the Kettle Black’

The pot calling the kettle black is a situation in which one person accuses another of a fault (or faults) that they themselves possess. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.,3Jarvie, Gordon. Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.,4Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.


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Usage

This idiom is used to refer to situations as described in the definition above.
For instance, if one person who is selfish accuses another person of being selfish, we would call this ‘the pot calling the kettle black.’

Examples of Use

“I can’t believe Bert called me cheap! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!”

“Fred said that Bernard can’t get along with his co-workers,” said Mr. Evigan. “Fred said that?” replied Tammy. “Fred can’t get along with anybody. He’s the rudest person I know. That’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

“So you’re getting another divorce, huh? Maybe marriage isn’t for you,” said Jefferson. “You’ve been divorced four times!” said Aaron. “Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”

Origin

The word kettle did not originally refer to only the teakettle. Instead, it referred to any container used to heat water over a fire. The word kettle derived from the diminutive form of the Latin word catinus, catillus.

In Latin, catinus referred to a large pot for cooking. The diminutive form, catillus, gave rise to the Old English cetel or cietel, which was probably also influenced by the Old Norse ketill.

A pot is any large container used for cooking or storage. In this instance, a pot and a kettle are essentially the same thing. Originally, when large kettles or pots were heated over open flames, all such vessels were stained black, thus the idiom.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
3. Jarvie, Gordon. Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.
4. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.