Idiom similar to "pot calling the kettle black"?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Thoth, Jul 29, 2009.

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  1. Thoth New Member

    Is there an English idiomatic expression for the situation in which one person accuses another of some bad behavior or attribute when the accused is not guilty of it but the accuser is?

    "The pot calling the kettle black" doesn't work, because it implies both parties are guilty.

    Looking for something along the lines of "the skunk calling the rose stinky." (I just made that up.)

    There must be such (local/regional) expressions out there, but I just can't latch onto one.

    To make my point clearer:

    Wikipedia lists an "alternative interpretation" of "pot calling the kettle black" that captures what I'm looking for:

    "The actual idiom is 'The pot bottom calling the kettle bottom black.' A subtler alternative interpretation, included by some,[1][2] but not all,[3] sources is that the pot is sooty (being placed on a fire), while the kettle is clean and shiny (being placed on coals only), and hence when the pot accuses the kettle of being black, it is the pot's own sooty reflection that it sees: the pot accuses the kettle of a fault that only the pot has, rather than one that they share."

    But I don't think this is the way most English users understand the expression.

    I'm looking for an expression that says this unambiguously.

  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi Thoth - welcome to the forums!

    "Pot calling the kettle black" does the job for me: when I use it, the implication is that the person I'm speaking to is far more of a reprobate than I am....

    If you could tell us the context you want to use this in, that might help trigger something more specific:)
  3. Thoth New Member

    Thanks, Loob.

    The situations that gave rise to my search for such an idiom were William Kristol's accusation that Barack Obama is an "arrogant man" and Senator De Mint's accusation that Obama is "out of control."

    In my mind, neither accusation is true of the accused, but only of the accuser.

    I don't think the "pot" or "log" ("log in your own eye.....") idioms quite do justice to the flagrant projection, hypocrisy and dishonesty involved.
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"?
  5. Thoth New Member

    No, "people in glass houses" won't work either.

    Still implies that both parties are guilty.

    I take that full idiom to be "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at other people who live in glass houses," where "living in a glass house" means being vulnerable to the criticism/accusation involved.

    More apt would be something like "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at other people who live in concrete houses with no windows."

  6. Thoth New Member

    Just a thought....

    Not a widely used idiom, but not a bad turn of phrase: "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at those who don't."

  7. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't think it does, Thoth.

    A word of advice: it's always a bad idea to react negatively when you're the one asking for help...;)
  8. I don't think it does either, but it also doesn't answer Thoth's original request. He is seeking an idiom where the accuser is guilty and the accused innocent.

    "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" affirms the guilt of the stone-thrower but says nothing about the targets of the stones; they could be innocent or guilty.
  9. Thoth New Member


    Well, "people in glass houses" is certainly closer to what I'm after.

    I've always construed it to mean roughly the same thing as the other two idioms....but perhaps that's idiosyncratic.

    I'll do a little research and surveying.

  10. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I agree, edgy.
  11. Thoth New Member

    Well, doing a bit of very quick "research" (namely, a search here ... lol), it produced this from one JamesM in a thread discovered with "people glass houses" (April 2009):

    Re: People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw soda cans?
    The original saying is "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." It means that you should not criticize others when you yourself are particularly vulnerable to the same criticism because of your own actions.

    I don't know where the soda cans came in. Where did read, hear or see this? Were soda cans involved in the scene somehow?
    So, apparently, I'm not the only one to construe it that way.
    But I'm going to ask others how they construe it.

  12. GerardM

    GerardM Senior Member

    Paris, France
  13. Thoth New Member

    No, I'm afraid the "log" idiom doesn't quite cut it,
    because both people in it have something in their eye.

    I'm in search of an idiom wherein only the accusing/criticizing party has something in his/her eye.

    For what I'm trying to get an idiom for, the "glass houses" and "eye logs" idioms are certainly better than the "pot/kettle" one, but still not quite on the mark.

    Thanks for thinking about it.
  14. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    For me the glass houses jobbie suggests that only the person being addressed is guilty of whatever ...
  15. Thoth New Member


    True, on its face the expression really says nothing about the guilt or innocence of the target; it emphasizes the guilt of the thrower -- which is why it fits my bill better than the "pot" idiom. BUT... why would the thrower throw the stone if he/she didn't think the target was vulnerable? It seems to me that a certain vulnerability of the target is implied. ("Don't smash their glass unless you want yours smashed.")

    The idiom I'm searching for would really highlight the falsity of the charge, not just its hypocrisy.
  16. spatula

    spatula Senior Member

    English - London (Irish ethnicity)
    Looks like you've had the good and the great of WR apply their minds to this Thoth, but it's still not happening for you. Might be time to face the fact that maybe there isn't such an expression in English - yet! You could use artistic license to craft what you know is out there into what you need. For example, I don't know, something like:

    'Let he who is himself not guilty of this particular crime cast the first stone.' As I'm not party to the greater context of how you'd like to use it, then I can't offer much help in how to then weave in the fact that the victim is innocent - but you get my drift.

    I'd love for a suggestion of a newly created phrase to trip off my tongue at this point, but unfortunately I have writer's block. I'm sure others could oblige!
  17. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    I quite liked your skunk thing, Thoth.
  18. Thoth New Member


    Sigh. I'm afraid you may be right, spatula. I was hoping I was overlooking some well-known phrase or that some little-known but apt and catchy expression would emerge from the backwoods of Arkansas -- or something like that.

    But I guess not.

    Anyway... thanks to all of you who put your minds to this. Appreciate it.
  19. Gdnz New Member

    How about this: "don't point your finger at the innocent when there's more pointing back"
  20. L'irlandais

    L'irlandais Senior Member

    Dreyeckland/Alsace region
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Hello Gdnz,
    Welcome to the forums. :)
    This is a very old thread you've dug up. Interesting but old.

    I wonder if one couldn't cut 'n paste two idioms together to get the required effect :
    for example -
    The pot calling the knight in shining armour black.

    Or perhaps less imaginatively :
    The wino saying the teetolaller drinks like a fish.
    The wolf in sheep's clothing calling the ("as innocent as a") lamb guilty.
    Black ice trying to dig up the dirt on ("as pure as") the virgin snow.
  21. frenchifried Senior Member

    English - UK/US
    Taking the moral high ground
    Judge not lest ye be judged
    Let him who is without sin cast the first stone

    . . . not quite:confused:
  22. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    Thoth, I think the expression you're looking for is a single word: Chutzpah!
    Gall, effrontery, ironic audacity.
  23. bookem New Member

    not an idiomatic expression however but sounds like someones 'passing the buck'
  24. FictionalReality

    FictionalReality New Member

    I’m not sure whether this could help, but you could use something like this “A raven shouldn’t call the dove black”
    Sorry if it’s terrible, I just tried to come up with it quickly!
  25. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This is an imaginative thread that has been gently accumulating a list of potential equivalents for almost six years. It's not really within the WR scope, and we do have a specific objection to threads that are compiling lists. Time to close the discussion.
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