Intermediate+ Word of the Day: pot

pot (noun, verb) /pɑt/ LISTEN

A pot is a container, usually a large one, used to cook or heat water, and it is also the contents of the container. In addition, it is the container we use for flowers and other plants in our houses and gardens and a container for liquor or other alcoholic drinks. In betting, the pot is all the money bet or wagered at one time. As a slang term, a pot is a large sum of money and also a belly, especially one gained by drinking. As a verb, it’s used mainly for plants and it means ‘to transplant into a pot,’ but it can also mean ‘to preserve food in a pot.’

Example sentences

  • There's some stew in the pot, if you're hungry.
  • I offered Luke some food and he ate the whole pot!
  • Gemma only has a small patio area outside, but she makes it pretty with pots of flowers.
  • Landlord, bring me a pot of ale!
  • Neil won the pot.
  • I think I need to do some more exercise; I'm starting to get a pot.
  • We need to pot those plants this weekend.
  • Pot the jelly while it is still hot.

Words often used with pot

go to pot: deteriorate, become ruined. Example: “This project started out well, but now it’s gone to pot; I don’t think we’ll be finished on time.”

sweeten the pot: to increase the amount of a wager or, by extension, to make something more desirable. Example: “The job offer was already pretty good, but then the company sweetened the pot by offering Erika a company car as well.”

pot on: transfer a plant into a bigger pot. Example: “Those tomato seedlings are getting bigger; we should probably pot them on now.”

In pop culture

Have you heard the saying, “the pot calling the kettle black?” It usually means that the speaker is guilty of whatever faults he or she finds in someone else. This particular saying came into English through literature. It can be found in Thomas Shelton’s 1620 translation of the famous Spanish novel, Don Quixote, in a scene where Don Quixote is angry about his companion, Sancho Panza. The Spanish refrain used in the original is actually much older. If you haven’t read the novel, you might like an introduction to the main characters, courtesy of the musical version:

Additional information

Pot is also a colloquial word for marijuana.

Did you know?

To pot also means ‘to drive a ball’ into a pot, as is done in games like snooker and pool. Of course, some balls are harder to pot than others. Here is a clip of some professional snooker players showing off their potting skills:


Pot dates back to the mid-12th century, in the form of the Late Old English and Middle English noun pott, meaning ‘vessel.’ While it may have come into English from the Old French pot (pot, container or mortar), its origin is most likely Germanic, as several Low Germanic languages have a similar word, including the Old Frisian pott and the Middle Dutch pot. It is related to the Dutch pot. It may come from the Vulgar Latin noun pottus, but the origin before then is uncertain. Though the Latin noun potus meant ‘drinking cup,’ linguists are not sure they are related. The slang meaning ‘a large bet’ is from the early 19th century. The verb comes from the noun. It first appeared in the late 16th century, meaning ‘to drink from a pot,’ but by the early 17th century, the meaning had changed to ‘to put in a pot.’

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