The Pot Calling The Kettle Black - Idioms in Other Languages

pot-kettle-black.jpg

Before I started out in SEO, I worked in a coffee shop at the British Library where I met my Hungarian friend Olga. Since it wasn't a big chain coffee shop, and there was a Starbucks across the road, we spent a lot of time standing around doing nothing. One one particularly dull day, we started comparing the English and Hungarian languages. One thing that I have always remembered is when she told me the Hungarian version of the idiom "the pot calling the kettle black" is "bagoly mondja verébnek, hogy nagyfejű" or "the owl tells the sparrow he has a big head."

What with my life being pretty dull at the time, I thought this was pretty amazing and wondered if other languages had different versions of this phrase and whether or not they favoured pots and kettles, or owls and sparrows.

So, after Googling and asking around, I found out that there are a ton of different versions of this idiom. I make no claims as to the accuracy of these translations, I've just pulled them from various websites pasted what people told me in a forum.

Pots, Pots & More Pots

Kitchen receptacles are obviously a pretty standard thing across the globe...

Czech

"Konvice nazývá kotlík černým." - The pot called the kettle black.

Dutch

"De pot verwijt de ketel dat hij zwart ziet" - The pot reproaches the kettle for looking black.

Estonian

"Pada sõimab katelt, ühed mustad mõlemad" -‎ The pot reproaches the kettle, but they are both black.

Farsi

"Dig be dig begeh rud siyah" - The pot said to the pot 'you are dark'.

Lithuanian

"juokiasi puodas, kad katilas juodas" - The pot laughs that the cauldron is black.

(Lithuania totally wins by having a cauldron.)

México

"El comál le dijo a la olla" - The grill said to the pot.

Persian

"دیگ به دیگ میگه روت سیاه" - The pot tells the other pot 'your face is black'.

Perú

"La olla le dice a la sartén‎" - The pot said to the frying pan.

Romanian

"Râde ciob de oală spartă" - The pot laughs at the cracked pot.

Serbian

"Rugala se šerpa loncu, a i ona garava" - The casserole dish laughs at the pot, and they are both sooty.

(Good to know Serbians like a good casserole.)

Spanish

"el comal le dijo a la olla, que tiznada estás" - The comal said to the pot, you are so full of soot.

Also "Apártate que me tiznas, dijo la sartén al cazo‎" - Move away, you are blackening me, said the pan to the pot.

Turkish

"Tencere dibin kara, seninki benden kara" - One pot saying to another, 'Pot, your bottom is black.' Other pot replies, 'Yours is blacker than mine!'

(Love it! It's like a little play.)

Ukrainian

"дорікав горщик чавунові, що чорний‎" - The pot reproaches the kettle for being black.

Animals

These ones are great, because you can totally tell why each languages uses the animal it does. (Apart from the last one). Sadly, only one involves an owl.

Arabic

"الجمل لا يرى عوجة رقبته" - The camel cannot see the crookedness of its own neck.

Chinese

"雞看不見雞背脊" - A chicken can't see its own back.

Korean

"똥 묻은 개가 겨 묻은 개 나무란다"‎ - The dung-stained dog reproaches the chaff-stained dog.

"겨 묻은 개가 똥 묻은 개를 흉본다‎" - The chaff-stained dog disparages the dung-stained dog.

(Strange that there are two versions of this, just swapped around. Also, someone on the forum told me they use: "the dog covered in manure scolds the dog covered in mustard." I much prefer that version. I don't know what chaff is, but I'm assuming it's not the same as mustard.)

Mandarin

"烏鴉笑豬黑,自己不覺得"‎ - The crow mocks the blackness of the pig, ignoring its own blackness. (From Sichuan)

"龜笑鱉無尾‎" - The turtle makes fun of the trionychidaes and their short tails. (From Zhangzhou, Fujian)

(Wikipedia tells me a trionychidaes is another type of turtle. Oddly specific.)

Portuguese

"O porco falando do toucinho‎" - The pig talking about the bacon.

Serbo-Croatian

"Rugala se sova sjenici da ima velike oči"‎ - The owl mocked the tit for having large eyes.

Venezuela

"Cachicamo diciéndole a morrocoy conchúo" - The armadillo tells the turtle it is too hard shelled.

Vietnamese

"Chó chê mèo lắm lông" - The dog ridicules the cat for being hairy.

Welsh

"Ti'n ddu" meddi'r fran wrth yr wylan" - You're black, said the crow to the seagull.

(Is there anything less poetic than a seagull? Also, seagulls aren't black, so this makes much less sense than all the others. Good effort though, Wales.)

And a few languages have penchant for donkeys...

Greek

"είπε ο γάιδαρος τον πετεινό κεφάλα"‎ - The donkey called the rooster bullheaded.

Spanish / Mexican

"El burro hablando de orejas" - The donkey talking about ears.

German

"Ein Esel schimpft den anderen Langohr" - A donkey calls another one long-ear.

(I just find it strange that Germany uses donkeys. I don't know why.)

 

Thieves

Hindi

"Ulta Chor Kothwal ko daante" - The thief scolding the magistrate in reverse.

Indonesian

"Maling Teriak Rampok" - The thief shouting 'robber'.

Danish

"Tyv tror, hver mand stjæler" - A thief believing that everybody steals.

 

Miscellaneous

I think some of these are a bit lost in translation, but they're great.

Portuguese

"O sujo falando do mal lavado"‎ - The dirty is talking about the half clean.

French

"La pelle se moque du fourgon" - The shovel mocks the poker

(For being metal and pointy, I assume?)

"c'est l'hôpital qui se moque de la charité" - The hospital mocking the charity.

(I am told that in XVIIth century France, both meant 'medical institution', usually run by religious orders, so they were essentially the same thing.)

And a more recent one...

"c'est le Roquefort qui dit au Camembert tue pue." - The Roquefort tells the that Camembert it stinks.

(Nice. Stay classy France.)

Ukranian

"насміхалась верша з болота"‎ - The fishing basket ridiculed the swamp.

(What for? Being slimy? Wet? Dammit Ukraine, I need more information.)

Chinese

"五十步笑百步" - Fifty steps laughing at hundred steps.

(This is apparently referring to slower retreating soldiers laughing at faster retreating soldiers running in front of them. Yeah, me neither.)

These next two are my favourites...

Bengali

"Chaluni bole chhuch re tor Pichhe kano Chheda!" - The Sieve tells the needle to mind the hole in its back.

Japanese

"目糞鼻糞" from "目糞が鼻糞を笑う - Eye wax and snot, shortened from the eye wax laughing at the snot.

(Eye wax!? I guess we call it 'sleep' here in the UK, which is pretty weird, but still. "Hey gross thing, you are also gross!" Brilliant.)

And finally, the very literal versions...

Punjabi

"ਆਪ ਕਿਸੇ ਜਹੀ ਨਾ, ਨਕ ਚੜਾਨੋ ਰਹੀ ਨਾ" - You are yourself good for nothing, and still trying to ridicule others.

(Catchy.)

And Google translate tells me this Hebrew phrase means 'pot calling the kettle black' but the website where I found it gave a much better translation...

Hebrew

"כל הפוסל במומו פוסל‎ Kol HaPosail, B'mumo Posail" - All who disqualify [another due to a fault] with their own [having that] fault [so] disqualify.

(Scathing, I know.)

So, there you go. If you ever need to call someone a hypocrite in another language, look no further.

Although I only speak English and am terrible at learning languages, I find the comparisons really fascinating, so research this was loads of fun. I've also got a stash of other brilliant idioms in other languages now, so expect another post on those at some point.

Thanks to WikipediaLinguification and the members of Scribophile for the help in compiling these.

photo credit: chishikilauren via photopin cc

MiscKate3 Comments