Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Episode 43: Preaching to the Converted Transcript

Click on “Read More” for the full transcript.

We used Temi to auto transcribe this, then Dan went through and checked it based on the show notes. He tried really hard on it, but this kind of stuff isn't his specialty. So if you notice anything confusing, please comment on this post so Dan can look at it and clarify anything.

Dan:                                     00:00                    Welcome to bunny trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase, I'm Dan Pugh
Shauna:                               00:05                    and I'm Shauna Harrison today, I'm preaching to the converted.
Dan:                                     00:09                    To the, to the converted?
Shauna:                               00:10                    Yeah. Or the, or the saved. I've heard it that way before too.
Dan:                                     00:14                    I've always heard preaching to the choir.
Shauna:                               00:16                    Uh, yeah, I think that's a more, uh, the most common way it's used in the United States is preaching to the choir. So...
Dan:                                     00:24                    Oh. All right. So what's up?
Shauna:                               00:25                    When we preach to the converted, we are trying to convince someone of something that they either already agree with or believe in. The phrase is also used with variants like you had mentioned preaching to the choir, preaching to the saved or with to preach to as the beginning of the phrase.
Dan:                                     00:42                    Gotcha.
Shauna:                               00:44                    So many of our idioms start with, like this tale, some epic, fascinating, a story or a common occurrence that led to the use of a specific combination of words. Um, and in a way that's kind of true here, but preaching to the converted as truly more about the individual words, then their transition, um, as a group over time. So today this phrase is truly an idiom, but the dependent word here is preach. So to track this phrase down actually had to go back and look at the word preach on its own. So Dan, when do you think we started to use the word preach?
Dan:                                     01:21                    The word preach by itself, meaning like to try and get somebody else to do something or to inform them of something?
Shauna:                               01:28                    Um, well, so it actually started out, uh, the, the, the oldest use of it was to deliver a sermon or religious address.
Dan:                                     01:37                    Okay. So 1522,
Shauna:                               01:41                    uh, close-ish
Dan:                                     01:45                    I'm not close am I?
Shauna:                               01:46                    It was actually about 1200.
Dan:                                     01:48                    What?!
Shauna:                               01:48                    Yeah, no, it was in the early 12 hundreds. Oxford English dictionary, uh, gave us that initial definition there for, for preach. And, um, a good example of early usage is found in English studies, which is a compilation that was edited by Eugen K√∂bling in, uh, that was published in 1877. But the compilation is from works that are ever circa 1250. And it says, :See Gregori preached with the Golden Mouth".
Shauna:                               02:21                    Another example of the word preach being used in this very specific way is from 1644 in John Milton's Areopagitica. I can't say that word very well, but it's, it's a nice combo word there like, uh, can you say it?
Dan:                                     02:36                    No, absolutely not. And I'm just thinking how fun I'm going to have when I'm doing the transcript. Trying to figure out if the, if the transcript can figure out what you said there.
Shauna:                               02:45                    <Shauna tries to say Areopagitica a couple of times, then gives up.> Yup. "Christ urged it as where with to justify himself that he preached in public."
Shauna:                               02:56                    So this speech by Milton was for the liberty of unlicensed printing and it was to the parliament of England. It was a prose polemic opposing licensing and censorship. So he was calling them out. He's like, even Jesus Christ, uh, spoken in public.
Shauna:                               03:12                    So that pretty well establishes the origin of the word preach for us. In the late 13 hundreds to the early 14 hundreds preach began to take on a more figurative meaning, or rather it was used to refer to ideas beyond specific religious settings. So our second definition for preach is "to utter a serious or ernest exhortation, especially a moral or religious one. And now it's often used as a derogatory to give moral or religious advice in a self righteous or condescending or obtrusive way. "
Dan:                                     03:48                    Ah, I see. So when your parents might preach at you about something when you're a teenager and you're just like, ugh.
Shauna:                               03:56                    Exactly. We see it being used in this manner in Wife of Bath's Tale, and this is around 1395. It's by Chaucer and there's a fun line in here. Uh, the line question is number 247. It's part of the prologue. "Thou comest home as drunken as a mouse and preachest on thy bench with evil preef."
Shauna:                               04:21                    Most think that she was cursing him. Essentially a statement that translates today to a curse on you, curse you, or bad luck to you. Something along those lines. But there are some historians who think that the intention was to highlight his accusation as a false statement. So evil meaning false. Um, so evil proof being a lie. Yeah, he was basically like a nefarious prevaricator
Dan:                                     04:48                    Ho oh, that is very clever.
Shauna:                               04:50                    I think perhaps what is significant about this example is the use of preach occurs multiple times in this, in the, in this tale. And with that same intention behind it, moving forward to 1523 Lord Berners in, uh, Froissart's Cronycles, "They were brought to his tent, and there they were so preched to that they tourned to sir Charles parte:
Shauna:                               05:19                    Ouch. So they, uh, they turned tail and went to the other side because they were being preached to so hard. We see it again in 1753 in Stewart Richardson's histories of Sir Charles Grandison the fifth "Let us when we are called upon to act a great or manly part, preach by action."
Shauna:                               05:37                    And I thought that was kind of a neat example because it's really showing a preach, again, used as a, as a figurative, it's really displaying a certain thing or, or trying to get people to understand a concept is really, the word preach has a bigger concept than just the word of giving a sermon.
Dan:                                     05:55                    Gotcha.
Shauna:                               05:56                    So this leads us up to the time that the concept of preaching to the converted or preaching to, to the saved I entered the lexicon. It's difficult to pin down the exact timeline, um, since the English at this point in history experienced a rather large discrepancy between the written and spoken language. So I want to read the, this initial, uh, definition for our idiom
Dan:                                     06:23                    For preaching to the choir?
Shauna:                               06:24                    Yes. To preach to the converted and variants. Now this is coming from Oxford English dictionary, so it's going to use converted, uh, which is more common in, in the UK, "To preach to the converted and variants to advocate something to people who already share one's convictions about its merits or importance. Also originally and chiefly in the u s to preach to the choir."
Shauna:                               06:47                    The first time we see this in print according to Oxford English dictionary is 1857. And this is in the Times out of London. "It is an old saying that to preach to the converted is a useless office. And I may add that to preach to the unconvertible is a thankless office."
Shauna:                               07:06                    Kind of a funny play on words, but I think it's, it's great to see this quote because it goes ahead and throws it on in there that this is an old saying. And so we actually can't find the origin of the specific idiom because it's one of those things that just kind of found its way into the lexicon naturally. And it was so commonplace that by the, by 1857, it was considered an old saying. Um, even though, you know, earlier on we didn't see it. And in the literature, so moving a little bit closer to now ish in 1916 in George Sainsbury's, the piece of the Augustinians, there's an excerpt that provides a really nice visual. I think "One may be said to be preaching to the converted and kicking at open doors in praising the four great novelists of the 18th century."
Shauna:                               08:01                    So, uh, I thought it was interesting, like the, this was a big talk to, to praise the great novelists of the 18th century. And, uh, he decided at a certain point that was pretty, pretty silly to continue to praise them when everybody already knew how awesome they were. For this last quote, I'm not going to tell you when it took place and so Dan, I'm going to have you guess on this one.
Dan:                                     08:24                    I'm a, I'm 0-1 <oh for one> right now. Go ahead.
Shauna:                               08:27                    Okay, so you get a little bit, it's, it was in the Washington Post
Dan:                                     08:30                    So sometime after 18....77?
Shauna:                               08:34                    Yes. You'll get another hint in the text. "Foster spoke yesterday before I packed Air Force Association seminar admitting that this was like preaching to the choir. He nevertheless went onto detail, a rather gloomy view of declining us capabilities."
Dan:                                     08:55                    1967.
Shauna:                               08:56                    You're very close. Ridiculously close. It was 1970.
Dan:                                     09:01                    Nice.
Shauna:                               09:02                    I was really hoping that you had um, guests closer to now.
Dan:                                     09:06                    No,
Shauna:                               09:08                    Cause I feel like this sounds like something that would be, could be set at a, at a press conference today, honestly.
Dan:                                     09:14                    Today's show is sponsored by our patrons on Patreon. Special thanks to lagomorphology interns, Charlie Moore, Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig for sponsoring this episode. is a subscription service that allows you to support content creators you love. It's free to sign up and follow along. If you're in a financial situation that allows for monetary support, you can get additional perks for as little as one dollars a month. That's <dollars> not a plural. Features like early access to episodes, behind the scenes content, bonus episodes, and more are all available at
Shauna:                               09:48                    This idiom is so common today that it's just all over the place in books and movies and all kinds of great modern references. Uh, one example is a 2005 movie preaching to the choir and it sounds pretty entertaining. The subtitle is a righteous comedy with a divinely inspired beat. Uh, so maybe a musical and uh, but the synopsis reads a" pair of estranged twins driven apart by the death of their parents find reconciliation and redemption after following radically different paths in life", which for me, that really changed where I thought it was going. Based on the, uh, the very happy looking poster, a have to two people in, in choir robes
Shauna:                               10:36                    In 2007, preaching to the converted on Sundays and feast days throughout the year by Richard Leonard was published. And at the beginning of the sales pitch on book depository reads, "preaching is getting harder and harder. Preachers are up against some tough opposition church goers with shorter attention spans who are saturated with the razzle dazzle media and lead a fast paced life. Those who preach have a brief window of opportunity to reach the faithful, busier, not at mass. What preachers need is a good story to tell in a dynamic way of presenting it. And this book fills the bill"
Dan:                                     11:15                    Oh, I want to cry for these preachers.
Shauna:                               11:17                    Yeah. So side note on this author, because I thought his bio was, was really interesting actually. And, and then I was kind of like, well, I guess, yeah, that makes sense. That, that, that this would be a thing. Uh, so "Richard Leonard is a Jesuit of the Australian province. He is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office, a consultant to the Australian Catholic Bishops Media Committee and a film critic for all the major Catholic newspapers of Australia, a holder of doctorate in cinema studies. He has lectured all over the world." It just, it didn't Mesh for me and my brain when I first read it. And then I was like, I guess, yeah, it makes sense.
Dan:                                     12:00                    For, for what? I don't understand.
Shauna:                               12:02                    I'd like the, the, the, I guess I, I hadn't ever heard of the Catholic film office and so I was just, it was a new concept for me. Uh, I grew up in the Catholic church and I didn't, I guess pay attention to the, to their media presence or to that cinema studies aspect of it. So it was interesting.
Dan:                                     12:23                    Huh. Cool.
Shauna:                               12:25                    Chris Guillebeau, which I'm sorry Chris for, for saying your name like that. Uh, he shared the article Why Preaching To The Choir Is A Good Thing on Copyblogger in which he discusses the merits of a style of sales he refers to as recruitment "Instead of knocking on doors or begging for spare change. Recruitment is all about opening your own doors to the people who are already naturally predisposed to your message."
Shauna:                               12:51                    He wraps up this section a little later stating "These are the people you want in your group. You can think of them as your basic church choir and preaching to the choir is a good thing."
Dan:                                     13:01                    I mean, it sounds redundant to me, but all right.
Shauna:                               13:04                    Yes, it was kinda interesting. Uh, user Tourmaline on word reference language forums posted the following question in 2012:
Shauna:                               13:14                    "“Today, while I was reading English sentences, I saw this expression. ‘Preach to the choir.’ I thought the meaning was similar with this expression ‘to teach a fish how to swim.’ But when I found some examples in google, I realized that the meaning is different. Question: 1. Is the meaning of the expression 'to teach something to those who is well aware of it'? When I write 'well aware of', it means just a certain fact, not the depth of the knowledge - something like between an amateur and a professional. 2. If I am right about the meaning, in reality, is the expression somewhat rude/showing anger or you can just say it when you say something like "I already know it."? “I hope I could make my question correctly;; Thank you!”
Shauna:                               13:59                    Tourmaline is listed as a senior member from Seoul, South Korea and those who responded to this, Fred were primarily from England. Um, the UK area and the responses varied with mentions of idioms like "teaching your grandmother to suck eggs", which I had not heard before.
Dan:                                     14:16                    What does that mean?
Shauna:                               14:17                    um, which basically was a essentially like teaching a fish to swim. So like you're teaching somebody something they already know how to do and I was like, that sounds like it's probably rude.
Dan:                                     14:27                    Wow. That's... Okay. We'll have to examine that in a different episode.
Shauna:                               14:34                    I thought so. That's a different kind of episode. Uh, there didn't seem to be a consensus consensus with these individuals. The weather, the phrase was considered was positive to them or negative or neutral. Um, however, on larger forums I definitely saw that there was a more positive leaning, uh, impression of this phrase. Uh, they are also was a lot of variety as to choir. Converted and saved was there is a good mix of those on a lot of the forms that I found for today.
Dan:                                     15:03                    It seems really weird because I don't think I've ever heard someone say preaching to the choir when they meant it positively. Like it. I've only ever heard it used when someone is acknowledging that they have been going off about a tangent that, that the listener is already were well aware of. And so this was pointless for me to have done. So I'm, I mean like, it's a form of apology, but I'm preaching to the choir is a way of saying I, yeah, but I digress or I've gotten off topic. I need to slow down here because I'm already telling you something you already know. Let's talk about something maybe you don't know or that we can have a conversation about. Right. I have never heard preach to the choir preaching to the converted used in any way that wasn't almost apologetic for almost wasting someone's time or talking about a thing that they already knew.
Shauna:                               15:53                    Um, so actually the, this, uh, article in February of 2019 was titled Why It's Important To Preach To The Converted by Ryan McMaken. And this was posted on the Mises Institute Website. "In practice, most ideological groups do both internal idea development and education and outward communication. Both activities are important and many people understand this. Some observers nevertheless have a tendency to excessively emphasize the importance of not preaching to the converted. And this is often due to three incorrect assumptions. Number one, it is believed that people in the converted already have a sufficient understanding of the topic at hand. Number two, it is assumed that the converted, we'll never leave the group in question. And number three, it is believed that the converted won't interact with people outside their group in other contexts."
Dan:                                     16:51                    But this guy is taking it outside of an idiom usage and using it as a literal statement though, which is not at all with idiom does, which is the point of an idiom is that the words together don't necessarily mean what you think they'd mean or don't have the intention that you think they would have. So, in this case, this guy is trying to take an idiom and turn it into a literal thing as a selling point to sell a book or an idea, which is the opposite of what the idiom actually means.
Shauna:                               17:22                    Yeah, I've been there a various examples of people kind of trying to take an idiom and, and garner the lesson from it. Uh, which I think is interesting that, you know, actually like what the idiom serves, the purpose of having that concept already sort of together in its entirety. Um, but, but definitely people have a different, different interpretations of it. I really, this particular phrase for a couple of different reasons. It's, I personally don't think it's overly negative or positive. I think it can be used in both ways. I've, when people use it as kind of that apology, I think I've mostly heard it as kind of just an offhanded way to kind of segue or transition into a new topic or even to say that, you know, they feel like what they're saying is really important. So they know they're repeating things for some people, but they just want to emphasize it. And so they're going to go ahead and share that. Again. Generally I think people use this as a way to also acknowledge others and recognize, just acknowledge that they know that the others in the room have that knowledge already. And while there are obviously exceptions to this and uh, there's been some variants throughout history, I still really like that. It's kind of an, uh, it's uh, an idiom that so many people still use. I also thought it was really neat that people were using this phrase to discuss the merits and many facets of educating and communicating with individuals who exist in varying levels of involvement within a group. And I think the city, I'm actually encouraged us some deeper consideration on the topic and it can allow people to kind of assess their own understanding or belief or alignment, um, with a topic or a group. So I just really enjoy the, that aspect of this idiom.
Shauna:                               19:14                    That about wraps us up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. I'd also like to say a big thank you to those who've posted reviews for the show. Leaving a review really is the easiest way to support the show. Best of all, it's free throughout the week. You can catch us on Twitter and Instagram and sometimes on Facebook, all @bunnytrailspod.
Dan:                                     19:33                    This week we ask you to share the show on social media. Tell your friends and your followers how much you enjoy the show, and encourage them to follow along as well. Sharing the show with those you know, really is the best way to grow the community. Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. Until then, remember,
Together:                           19:49                    words belong to their users.

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