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Preaching to the choir

Posted by Smokey Stover on September 03, 2005

In Reply to: Preaching to the choir posted by Bob on September 02, 2005

: : : : The phrase "preaching to the choir" seems relatively new to me. I am 50 years old and from NYC. When I was growing up, we would say, "you are preaching to the converted" which, to me, makes much more sense. Did this phrase somehow get changed over the years? Does anyone know about this?

: : : : Also, the most annoying phrase to me is: "I COULD care less! This makes absolutely no sense. The actual phrase is: "I COULDN"T care less" meaning... that you care SO LITTLE that you couldn't possibly care any less! If you "could care less" than that means that you could actually care about something less than you do.

: : : I think it's probably changed:
: : : PREACH TO THE CONVERTED (THE CHOIR) - Propound an argument to people who already support it. Thus in 1867 John Stuart Mill wrote in one of his many books: 'Dr. McCosh is preaching not only to a person already converted, but to an actual missionary of the same doctrine." From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

: : : It doesn't say that Mr. Mill was the first to use that expression.

: :
: : Since the choir is always at the religious service, they always hear the preaching going on, so it would be redundant to repeat the preaching to them because they have already heard it.

: President Bush's audiences are always carefully screened to include only enthusiastic supporters. He can "preach to the choir" without the slightest chance of hearing a negative word. The choir is always made up of true believers and faithful attendees; they're a comfortable audience for any speaker.

Well, Bob, faithful attendees they are. But if you're talking about real choirs, true believers they may or may not be. Some choirs include professionals, who are there presumably for the money. And many amateurs in choirs are there for the music. I've sung in numerous choirs--Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed and non-denominational--but always just because I like singing in choirs. However, I like the phrase, "preaching to the choir."

As for "I could care less," which so annoys Lynn. I am much more annoyed at the use of "like" as a conjunction (or "like" like a conjunction), and such atrocities than I am at this particular instance of youthspeak. It's of the same family as "as if," made well-known in a movie. That is, it employs ellipsis for the sake of brevity and wit. It means, "[as though] I could care less!" Yes, there is also the expression "I couldn't care less." It shares the sentiment, but not the grammar. The one is not simply a careless expression of the other. However, when their day is done, or grownups start to use them, expressions like this are often modified by people who don't understand them or don't know their original form. At this point the logical or grammatical explanation may well fail. SS