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Re: Morris explanation

Posted by The Silver Surfer on January 21, 2000

In Reply to: Re: Morris explanation posted by Joe Pessell on January 20, 2000

: : : : : It's clear that "the pot calling the kettle black" refers to criticism that could equally apply to the critic. But why is "black" a criticism in this phrase? I am specifically wondering if this is one of those nasty ethnic slurs that is left over from a time when such things were more commonly spoken, or if some other interpretation might apply. Any ideas or information? Please send an e-mail. Thanks.

: : : : POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK - The "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris has more detail about this phrase than other reference books. (Note: iron pots and kettles are already black, even when new.) Judge for yourself whether the phrase has racial connotations. I guess that issue hinges on whether the color black being associated with "evil" has a connection to racial prejudice towards dark-skinned people:

: : : : "There are two slightly varying interpretations of this phrase, which is used figuratively to apply to persons. One theory is that such action is ridiculous because they are both black, presumably from standing for years on a wood-burning stove or in a fireplace. So the pot as well as the kettle is black (evil) and neither one is better than the other. This supports the explanation of the phrase as given in 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable': 'Said of one accusing another of faults similar to those committed by himself.'

: : : : The other theory is that the pot was black but the kettle polished copper and the pot, seeing its own blackness reflected in the shiny surface of the kettle, maintained that the kettle, not it, was actually black. In any event, it seems that the best, if slangy, retort by the kettle may have been: 'Look who's talking!'

: : : : Usually the source of the phrase is given as Cervantes' 'Don Quixote' and simply as 'The pot calls the kettle black,' but another version of Don Quixote comes out as: 'Said the pot to the kettle, get away black-face!' Henry Fielding, eighteenth century writer, reverses the roles in 'Covent Garden Tragedy': 'Dares thus the kettle to rebuke our sin!/Dares thus the kettle say the pot is black!' Even Shakespeare used the idea in 'Troilus and Cressida': 'The raven chides blackness.'"

: : : To use a technical term, I fear you're guilty of 'Churning'. And another point, can you really be posting the transcript of a conversation between a copper kettle and a pot and expecting to be considered serious. Methinks you're still influenced by overindulgence in the the kind of festive cheer that comes from bottles marked "100% Proof" - and that's the kindest explanation I've got.

: : You can't use the phrase "100% Proof" to describe liquor. Proof is a measure of relative alcohol content and is equal to 1/2% per proof. Thus, 100% alcohol is 200 proof, just as 100 proof is 40% alcohol (by volume). "100% Proof" is therefore nonsensical.
: excuse me: 100 proof is 50%, not 40%...

I can see you searched hard to find another hook to hang a 'put down' on. Perhaps what you should have pointed out was that the % symbol could have legitimately been replaced by the 'degree' symbol. The Proof system is not international and the British - who devised a scheme to define the standard - defined 100 degree proof a couple of centuries ago as that mixture of alcohol and water which would allow Naval Gunpowder to ignite. The mixture was found to be 40% alcohol. More sophisticated, and less explosive, tests are now used but I'm sure there is a British office of State which retains responsibility for the gunpowder test.

I have found, to my cost, that a little learning is a dangerous thing and to join a crowd baying for the blood of a victim you don't even know is a shameful thing.