"Pot calling the kettle black"

Historically, does this have racial overtones?

Only according to Teh Black Leadership™

It’s a very old proverb that comes in a number of variations, all meaning that the speaker is a hypocrite. It doesn’t historically have racial connotations, but today the word black is a trigger word.

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In an open hearth fireplace, both the kettle and the cooking pot would had been suspended above the fire and each collected the same amount of soot.
While it is possible that someone at some time tried to use an already familiar expression in a racial context, there is nothing racial about its origins or its use for most of the expression’s history.

It couldn’t possibly make any sense as a racial slur. A metal inanimate object can’t possibly belong to a race. My turtleneck is black. I’m pretty sure it never had a mommy or a daddy of any sort.

This thread reminds me of what that idiot Omarosa said in the first season of The Apprentice:

Ugh. I couldn’t stand her.

Maybe we need a race neutral saying. How about: That’s like Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth calling Shane Powers an insane reality show loser.

What about “calling a spade a spade”? I’ve actually never encountered the word “spade” used as a racial epithet, only as a reference to a garden tool or the suit in a deck of cards. But I’ve read about people feeling that it is one, and specifically being uncomfortable about this phrase.

And on the obviously racist side of the equation, what the heck is actually supposed to be meant by “a n*gger in the woodpile”? I’ve read that in older American literature (never heard it in person), and while it’s clearly an offense to modern sensibilities, I couldn’t quite figure out what was meant by it. Something like “a booby trap”? Was the image that of a person hiding the woodpile waiting to assault someone coming to collect the wood or something? Unlike most catchphrases involving offensive ethnic/racial terms, there’s no obvious (to me) stereotype invoked by this phrase, and apparently it was at one time quite common.

No, the image is not of the “n*gger” about to pounce. The phrase means a hidden flaw in an argument, some fact that is not revealed. There doesn’t seem to be any concensus about the origin. One view is that it dates from the 1850’s and the “Freedom Road” underground railway when there might actually have been a runaway slave hidden in a woodpile but there also seems to be earlier usage in the southern States referring to a white family having black ancestors. You can see it used in an 1860 political cartoon attacking Lincoln.

Presumably it would also alude to the fact that most wood is of a light, near-white color (well, once you strip the bark off). I’m amused by the discovery of the correct phrasing of the expression, as for the longest time, I thought the expression was “A Wop in the Woodpile”, being traced back to Danny Glover’s character in Flight of the Intruder, Commander Franky Caparelli describing how a black man ended up with a last name like “Caparelli” (also, he’s either 5th Generation Mafia or a Navy weapons system that went over budget, depending on when you ask him).

from http://www.wordorigins.org/Words/LetterC/callaspade.html

I didn’t think it was racial. On another thread, someone jokingly posted something like “snow calling the rice white”. In that context it loses it’s sting so I was thinking it might be the ‘black’ part of it that was the the barb.

The term I prefer is “the sieve says the colander leaks,” which is race, gender, and sexual orientation neutral… :wink:

Is it because the pot and kettle acculmulate soot, or was it because they were both made of cast iron?

I’d always thought that “nigger in the woodpile” was a reference to a type of venomous snake with black colouring sometime found in woodpiles and likely to cause a rather “interesting” moment when getting wood. Did I make that up or what?

I always understood the phrase to apply when a white person has some black ancestry.

You made it up.

Various expressions were in print in the U.S. by 1852. They included “nigger in the wood pile,” “nigger in the fence” and “cat in the meal tub.” They all meant the same thing. None were literal, nor did they mean anything about a woodpile, fence, or meal tubs.


Soot is the blackener.

Yes, but cast iron also blackens with age/use. I don’t think it’s exactly soot that causes it with cast iron either, since cast iron used on electric stove tops blackens too.