In the tv series Mentalist S03E1: the character Rigsby uses the phrase

Kettle to pot. “Hello. Come in, pot.”

I wonder what it means. You can see the timestamp at the Quodb website.


3 Answers 3


It's a reference to the proverbial idiom "The pot calling the kettle black". This has more recently been reworked into the simpler "pot, kettle" reference to invoke the idiom.

As others have noted, the "X to Y. Hello. Come in, Y." format is used to mimic the start of a radio conversation. It's used to get the listener's attention and is essentially saying "hey, are you listening?".

So, combined, "Kettle to pot. Hello. Come in, pot." is simply drawing attention to the fact that the person being spoken to is guilty of the same thing that they are accusing the speaker of.

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    Noteworthy is that when this proverb first came about, pots and kettles were almost always made from cast iron, and thus were, in fact, black in color. It makes less sense these days when such dishes come in all sorts of colors, and black is far less common than it used to be. (Most common now seems to be either shiny metallic, or ceramic white.) Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 18:39
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    I see there are answers addressing both aspects of this, but I think it would be helpful for this (the top-voted and accepted answer) to also include a brief explanation of "X to Y. Hello. Come in, Y." which is a mock radio transmission. Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 20:27
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    @Darrel Hoffman: New cast iron pots & kettles aren't black, they're a sort of silvery-grey. The black comes from being used over open flames, since soot condenses on the colder metal of the pot. Most of the black soot rubs off on any available surface after you take it off the fire, but a little stays in the pores of the metal. Of course cooking over open fires was standard practice in the days before electric & gas stoves, and still happens when camping.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 4:16
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    More focused: "X to Y. Hello. Come in, Y." => X is calling Y. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 13:50
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    @jamesqf I have several cast iron pots and pans myself, none of which have ever come near open flames (I've always had electric burners). They are all black, inside and out, have always been black, and it does not rub or scrape off (which rules out some sort of coating or soot). I think you're thinking of polished iron, which these are not. Might have to do with the level of purity of the iron or something. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 13:51

By the way . . .

The first translation of Don Quixote brought to England a proverb about a pot calling a kettle ‘black-eyes’. In less than twenty years it had been thoroughly Englished to become

The pot calls the pan burnt-arse.

It was then included in John Clarke’s 1639 collection of proverbs, Parœmiologia Anglo-Latina.

In conversation with his fellow prisoners, Cervantes himself probably said black-arse (culinegra in Spanish) rather than black-eyes (ojinegra). After all, whether it’s a pan or a kettle, black or burnt, it has no eyes, and what happens happens to its arse!

Changing social mores (probably Victorian ones) did for burnt-arse. Just as they did for white-arse, the apt name given to the upland bird now known as the wheatear, whose ears are nothing to write home about but whose white rump is conspicuous in flight. It is known in France as cul-blanc. No ‘épis de blé’ for them!

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    My dad's a birder so I've picked up quite a lot, but I'd never heard that about the origins of the wheatear. Thank you!
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 9:33
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    By the way, those coy Victorian lexicographers derived 'wheatear' from 'white-arse' by splitting the words wrongly to make whit-earse, which they decided must be the plural of whit-ear. And Whit, they said, was a dialect form of whete, meaning wheat. I daresay ordinary folk carried on calling it by its real name for years. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 12:59
  • Those two Spanish adjective-headed compounds, culinegra and ojinegra, remind of a rather interesting paper I just read concerning “The syntactic structure of pelirrojo compounds” and the notion of inalienable possession relationships.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 14:30
  • @Graham Sorry. I wrote a reply but must have failed to post it. I picked up a fair bit from my dad too. He was a real countryman: spoke mannerly to magpies and called an elder a bottery. It was him wondering why on earth they were called wheatears that got me looking into it. Not many white-arses in Brixton(!) but blackcaps and a great spotted woodpecker arrived this year, along with nesting house sparrows, which are a rarity here these days. Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 12:22

"Come in, pot" is a play on words. You don't hear it much anymore, but in old TV shows (and probably radio before that), you would hear people (usually military or cops) on a two-way radio say something like:

"Car 17 to headquarters. Come in, headquarters."

when establishing a radio conversation.

And, of course, each side would say "Over" when they were finished speaking and ready for the other side to speak; "Over and out" when the conversation was done.

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    > "Over and out" when the conversation was done. Common misconception
    – scubbo
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 3:57
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    @scubbo - What?? You think they lied in "Highway Patrol", "Sky King", and half a dozen other TV shows???
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 11:56

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