Origins of the Phrase “The Pot Calling the Kettle Black”

If you search for “pots” on Bed Bath and Beyond’s website, you will find 998 products ranging in color from stainless steel to one with a giant Chicago Blackhawks logo. If you search for “kettles” you will see 304 results that feature designs of everything from polka dots to a giant rooster.

These days, pots and kettles come in all shapes, sizes and colors. But apparently that wasn’t always the case.

A popular way to accuse someone of hypocrisy is to say they are “the pot calling the kettle black.” I guess this means that pots and kettles only cam in one color, black, thus it made no sense for one (a pot) to criticize the other (a kettle) for something that could equally apply to both.

I have always considered that saying to be a little odd. Personally, I think it makes no sense for any kitchenware to talk in general, regardless of color (unless they are in the film The Beauty and the Beast).

Where did that term come from? At what point in our history were appliances used as verbal burns?

Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

What Are The Origins of the Phrase “The Pot Calling the Kettle Black”?

Phrases.org.uk dates the phrase back to the early 1600s. This was a time when cast iron kettles became covered in black smoke after much use with a fire. Pots too were often covered in black smoke, thus the hypocrisy of a pot pointing out the smoke stain on a kettle.

One of the earliest uses of the phrase appears in the 1620 translation of Don Quixote,

You are like what is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, ‘Avant, black-browes.’ ”

That line is close to the term we hear today, but not an exact match. Our first match happened in 1693 when William Penn, father of Pennsylvania, wrote,

For a Covetous Man to inveigh against Prodigality… is for the Pot to call the Kettle black.”

The saying must have taken off from then because it is still used today. However, these days the term has come under fire due to its racist undertones. Maybe a better term would be, “that is like the Chicago Blackhawk pot calling the kettle a rooster.”

Or maybe not.

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