We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are the Origins of the Phrase "the Pot Calling the Kettle Black"?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The term “the pot calling the kettle black” is usually used in the sense of accusing someone of hypocrisy. The origins of the phrase date back to at least the 1600s, when several writers published books or plays which included wordplays on this theme. Despite suggestions that the phrase is racist or nonsensical, the meaning is actually quite obvious when one considers the conditions of a medieval kitchen.

Typically, pots and kettles were made from heavy materials like cast iron to ensure that they would last and hold up to heat. Cast iron tends to turn black with use, as it collects oil, food residue, and smoke from the kitchen. Both pots and kettles would also have been heated over an open fire in a kitchen. As a result, they would have become streaked with black smoke despite the best cleaning efforts.

Since both are black, the pot calling the kettle black would clearly be an act of hypocrisy. The act could also be described by “it takes one to know one,” and it suggests a certain blindness to one's personal characteristics. There is another explanation for the term, involving the pot seeing its black reflection reflected in a polished copper kettle. In this sense, the pot does not realize that it is describing itself.

One of the earliest written instances of the phrase appears in Don Quixote, by Cervantes. The epic book was published in the early 1600s, and had a big influence on the English language. Numerous terms and idioms have their roots in Don Quixote, such as “quixotic” to describe an idealist. Shakespeare also played with the concept in one of his plays, as did many of his contemporaries. The phrase has been twisted and expanded over the centuries, appearing in forms like “pot, meet kettle.”

Some people believe that the phrase is racist, since it refers to the surface color of the objects involved. These individuals might want to keep in mind that in a modern kitchen, the idiom might be “the pot calling the kettle silver,” in a reference to the fact that many modern pots and kettles are often made from polished stainless steel. In this particular instance, skin color has nothing to do with the idiom, except in the sense that both of the objects involved are the same color.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon924167 — On Jan 02, 2014

The phrase is ambiguous because the context of the statement is missing. You could make fun of someone else for being now what they have scorned prior, and so in that context there would be no hypocrisy. However, the term, "dirty" is absent from the phrase and so that also leads to greater ambiguity.

By anon319431 — On Feb 13, 2013

Pot calling the kettle black is generally used to describe someone at fault labeling someone else at fault.

The problem is, if this analogy is followed through, why is it a fault for the pot to be black in the first place?

It isn't, yet the phrase is used in this way.

By anon293298 — On Sep 25, 2012

You are all missing the point. It´s about self deception and not seeing yourself as others see you. I don´t think the color is the issue; it´s the dirt. It´s like saying to someone you need a wash when we ourselves are covered in muck. In summary, it means we must look to ourselves before criticizing others.

By anon124188 — On Nov 04, 2010

The speck in another's eye and a log in your own actually comes from the bible, and I think is a lot better to use.

"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5 NASB

By anon110699 — On Sep 13, 2010

Here in Africa, the meaning is more of "remove the log in your eye before telling you neighbor to remove the spec." This is because African pots are made from clay, which is usually black in most cases.

Another fact is that the pots are used over open fires, and the soot adds to their dark color. The kettle, meanwhile, is made from either steel or aluminum and in most cases is usually not that dark since it is washed along with dishes.

By anon66030 — On Feb 17, 2010

I once heard from a middle eastern friend of mine that there is a similar phrase from Old Persia. It goes as: "The sieve telling the watering-can that the watering-can has way too many holes in it". It was, of course, in reference to a person with lots of faults accusing an innocent man of a wrong doing and demanding that the man be punished severely!

This may kind of be related to the "a person in a glass house should not throw rocks at other people's houses."

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.