Wednesday WOLF - Pot Calling the Kettle Black

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

In case you're not a smartass like me, I'm going to give you the best sarcastic idiom of the ages: That's the pot calling the kettle black. Oh, how I love that one! It's the socially acceptable way of calling someone a hypocrite.

First off, what does it mean? And secondly, where does it come from?

The idea behind the insult is that the pot (which is the color black) is taunting the kettle for being... black. And by the way, this has zero racist connotations - when the phrase was coined pots and kettles would've been black, not silver.

However, I recently came across another interpretation of it, which I thought was quite interesting. In this version, rather than the pot and kettle both being black, the pot is sooty because it is usually placed directly on a fire, whereas a kettle retains a shiny silver sheen because it's typically on top of a stove. When the pot looks at the kettle, it sees its own reflection and accuses the kettle of a fault that belongs solely to the pot. Got that? We also call it projection. But that's not as much fun to say.

The earliest written use of this saying comes from Don Quixote:

"It seems to me," said Sancho, "that your worship is like the common saying, 'Said the frying-pan to the kettle - Get away, blackbreech!' You chide me for uttering proverbs, yet you string them in couplets yourself."

Later on, Shakespeare would rephrase and use the same idea in "Troilus and Cressida," when Ajax condemns Achilles for faults he himself possesses. Ulysses (one of my favorite literary smartasses) says, "The raven chides blackness."

So now you know, and don't you feel better for the knowing?