The pot calling the kettle black is a well accepted idiom in English, and has many equivalents in other languages.

But there are some occasions when this phrase is not quite appropriate. When one uses this idiom, it seems that one is acknowledging that the transgression is equally applicable to both parties being referenced.

What if the accuser (i.e., pot) is known to be guilty of a perceived transgression, but the target (kettle) is unjustly accused? Is there another appropriate idiom that captures the essence of the situation?

  • 4
    Well, idioms are received differently by different people, but for me, PCTKB is more about "you don't get to have an opinion about rudeness or lateness or whatever you're complaining about, because you're the epitome of that". Whether the kettle really is transgressing isn't super relevant, though I suppose you could use a stronger retort like "Am not!" if you weren't transgressing. Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 0:11
  • 1
    Duplicate? english.stackexchange.com/q/40462/11762
    – yoozer8
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 2:16
  • 1
    Related: The meaning of the American idiom "pot calling the kettle black". (Of course, the saying is more of a proverbial phrase than an idiom—and it most certainly isn't originally American.)
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 23:38

3 Answers 3


Attributing one's own faults to others could be considered projection.

  • Although another answer currently has more upvotes, I must remark that this is the word that has the sentiment I was looking for. I normally take the original phrase to mean that both entities have the implied attribute, while my question focuses more on when the 2nd party does not have the attribute.
    – Firstrock
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 21:14

The subject here is the pot, not the kettle.

This expression is used to declare that an accuser (the pot) is not innocent themselves, and is essentially being a hypocrite. The actual colour of the kettle is secondary, but it's assumed to be guilty too.

A common expression that accuses hypocrisy without calling other parties into question is:

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.


I don't know of such an idiom, and imagine that you'd need to provide far more detail about the relationship in question for a relevant idiom to be dredged up.

The previously-suggested projection bias term seems to not mesh well with the notion of a transgressor accusing a party known to be innocent. In common Usenet parlance, when some delusional person accuses sane people of one bad habit or another, that is called 'projection', whether accurately or not I cannot say.

A transgressor who knows the other party is innocent probably cannot be said to be rationalizing, over-generalizing, misconceiving, etc. but perhaps can be said to be blame-shifting or demonizing.

If a third party called two other parties (one guilty, one not) transgressors, that would be called "tarring with the same brush" or "tarring with a broad brush".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.