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ETpro's avatar

What is wrong with the pot calling the kettle black?

Asked by ETpro (34208 points ) May 8th, 2010

We hear this pseudo-refutation in debate all the time. It implies that the speaker is a hypocrite. Instead of refuting the claim, it in essence seeks to shut the speaker up. But the fact that the pot may indeed be black doesn’t change the truth of its charge that the kettle is black as well. Why don’t we insist that the kettle answer the charge instead of trying to belittle its accuser into silence?

Let’s take a real-world example. An alcoholic, totally familiar with the signs of alcoholism, tells someone they are a fellow alcoholic. Does the charge lose all merit because the one making it is himself guilty? Isn’t it just as true when he says it as it would be if someone who had never imbibed in their whole lives leveled the accusation?

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8 Answers

Seek's avatar

The implied term is that the pot is insulting the kettle by calling it “black”.

It’s as though the alcoholic were saying “You’re nothing but a damned dirty alcoholic”, which would would effectively start a Pee-Wee-esque “I know you are but what am I?” argument.

wilma's avatar

I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with the pot calling the kettle black.
Just as you said, it often, “takes one to know one”.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

You have a point. Generally when I hear that saying used, however, the pot is calling the kettle black while somehow thinking, or outright denying, that they themselves are the same way – thus the pot is somehow thinking they’re better than the kettle – even though they aren’t in reality.

wilma's avatar

Yes @Seek_Kolinahr, and @DrasticDreamer I agree, with what you say but, it doesn’t always have to the case of an insult. Sometimes, it’s an affirmation.

Seek's avatar

In that case, the idiom does not fit the situation.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr @DrasticDreamer Great points. Thanks. It’s used to shut people up all the time in political debate. One side charges that the other is only for/against measure X because lobbyists are making it worth their while. The opposition responds, your leader took over $1 million from lobbyists. Maybe so, but that has nothing on earth to do with the merits of measure X or whether the speaker’s position on it is bought and paid for.

@wilma Thanks.

MissA's avatar

Oh, those racist pots!

ETpro's avatar

@MissA Ha! Sorry, the pot calling the kettle African American.

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