The English Language is bespeckled with such a delicious array of words and phrases. Speaking this global business language as a first language, I thought I knew enough English vocabulary to survive most books and conversations. But after a mere few days at my first real job, I felt like a foreigner, unable to understand many of the phrases other co-workers were using. What are these things called "idioms"? Did they just spring up within the past year? Why I wasn't taught these growing up?

This a blog to capture my frustration with the language I thought I knew so well, to aide those who also lack an understanding of idioms, and to perhaps provide a bit of entertainment on the side.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

That's the Pot Calling the Kettle Black

The first time I remember hearing this phrase was a few years ago. My initial thoughts to the usage of this phrase were:

Kitchen cookware doesn't talk.... uh, hellooo.
... yeah, but is he black?

How am I supposed to know what that means? So I ask. "I'm sorry, I don't know what that means." Everyone always looks at me and asks, "wait, where are you from?"

So it was explained to me, "the pot is black, and it's saying the kettle is black. But they're both black. Get it?"

What? No.
My thoughts:
Where I come from both the pot and kettle are more of a grey metal color... and they don't really talk much. Except the kettle, and it whistles a bit. Actually we have one of those electric kettles you plug into the electrical outlet and it dings when the water is boiled but we used to have a whistler. But I'll play along with this notion of old-fashioned kettles. So I'll imagine a cast-iron kettle and a cast-iron pot. Eewwwwwww who would want to cook anything in that? There'd be metal shavings all in the food!

After I casted a puzzled look, my friend (okay, it was Justin again) shouted exasperatingly "Hypocrite! It means you're a hypocrite!"

"Ohhh.... like the whole spec/plank in your eye?"

Now it was Justin who returned the puzzled look.

I continued, "yea... you know, before you mention the spec in your neighbor's eye, remove the plank from your own... No? Well...I'd rather say, 'Before I tell you this, I need to take the plank outta my eye...' It'd probably have a more comical or confusing effect than 'I'M A HYPOCRITE!'"

Justin looked at me in disbelief. "That's why you say 'That's like the pot calling the kettle black'..."

"I suppose..."

Spear's Definition:
The pot is calling the kettle black or That's the pot calling the kettle black
Prov. You should not criticize someone for a fault that you have too. (Not polite to say about the person you are addressing.)

Bill told Barbara she was sloppy, but Bill never cleans up after himself, either. That's the pot calling the kettle black.

My sister says I dress funny, but if you've seen some of the clothes she wears, you know it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Okay, okay. So it had been explained. It had soaked in. I could put it into use in my everyday vocabulary.

That's the Pot Calling the Kettle Black
My Score Card for this idiom:
Able to be understood initially?: No
Able to be understood once explained?: Yes

Next problem:
Which one is the name-caller?
Is the kettle calling the pot black?
Kettles tend to be noisier.
Wait, no, it's the pot.

After encountering this dilemma a few times, I compromised with,
"That's the pot or the kettle calling the other one black."

People know what I'm saying even though they cock their head to one side as if to have the sentence trickle down in between the ears to have it come out translated on the other side.

Meh, it still works for me.

Awkwardly yours,
an under-read American

1 comment:

Tim said...

laughed when I read this post...actually, the pot is calling the kettle black comes from a time when the pot WAS black (cast iron) and the kettle was silver. When the pot looks (figuratively) at the kettle, he sees his own reflection, but thinks (again figuratively) that he is seeing a black spot on the silver kettle. The tells the kettle he has a black spot...not realizing he IS the black spot!

Loving the langauge..