Famous Sayings: #5 — ‘The Blind Leading the Blind’

April 10, 2016

…the blind leading the blind.

blind leading the blind
Abel Grimmer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Not to poke fun at the visually impaired, but I have always found the humor is this saying. While the literal version, as depicted in the painting above, is quite humorous as well, the figurative definition nearly makes me crack a smile each time I think of it.

Why did I decide to go with this one now? As I was working on my second featured post, I came across this other idiom that people often use. You would be surprised at how many sayings originate from the Bible. (Or maybe you won’t.)


Which Bible Verse?

In this case, I would need to go over the full context. Everything was set up in most of a chapter.

In Chapter 15 in the Book of Matthew, Jesus was talking to scribes and the Pharisees who had come from Jerusalem. They asked Jesus why his disciples were foregoing the elders’ tradition of washing their hands before eating [bread]. Jesus responded and asked his interrogators why they had all be ignored one of the Ten Commandments (“Honor thy “father and thy mother). He went on to say that some of the laws of God had in effect been replaced by the laws of man. He ended with this quote (Verse 11):

11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.

After they left, Jesus was approached by his disciples, who asked him if he knew that the others were offended by what Jesus told them. He responded:

13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.

14 “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.

Peter asked Jesus to elaborate, to which the Lord responded:

17 “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?

18 “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.

19 “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

20 “These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”

In all honesty, I would beg to differ about the unwashed hands thing. Don’t even try to use that if you are shaking hands with someone, let alone handling food in a restaurant, grocery store, etc.


What Does It Mean?

When we refer to “The Blind Leading the Blind,” it isn’t literal but figurative. But we are of course referring to people who are directing others in one area despite having little to no basic knowledge in that area themselves.

Various sources tend to agree.

Here’s the definition you will find on the Cambridge Dictionaries Online:

the blind leading the blind

› used to describe a situation where a person who knows nothing is getting advice and help from another person who knows almost nothing

I found a two-part answer on Dictionary.com:

…in Culture…

An expression applied to leaders who know as little as their followers and are therefore likely to lead them astray: “When it comes to science and technology, many politicians know as little as the average citizen; they’re the blind leading the blind.”


…Idioms and Phrases with…

Those lacking the skills or knowledge for something are being guided by equally inept individuals. For example, Bill’s teaching his son carpentry; that’s a case of the blind leading the blind. The expression is found in the New Testament as one of Jesus’s teachings (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39). [c. 1600 ]

The meaning I found on The Phrase Finder was a bit harsh:

Uninformed and incompetent people leading others who are similarly incapable.


How Would One Apply the Saying for Those Unfamiliar with it?

That’s easy. Just think of my own definition and apply it to an everyday situation or one you commonly see on TV or the movies.

For example, take someone instructing an emergency pilot on how to fly a plane. Now image that neither person has even a basic idea of how the airplane works. Everyone on board is in trouble…unless they can get radio help.

Now, that last definition I shared from The Phrase Finder does hold some truth to it, however. It’s especially true when a person signs up for a position despite not having the qualifications. Think of Michael Brown as the leader of FEMA in 2005. If it’s a person’s job to head an organization that deals and that disaster relief and that person has no experience dealing with logistics, that person is incompetent. The situation is even worse when he’s leading a team of people with little to no experience in the department, either.


Does This Saying Hold Real Meaning Today?

Of course it does.

In the context of the Bible, this holds weight with the clergy and the religious today. Many members of the clergy sin and ignore sections of the Bible, as well.  There are lawmakers who want to enforce religious laws despite ignoring entire sections of the Bible or going without reading it in full. Many laypeople are just as guilty as those lawmakers.

However, I would say that there is a gentler context to most modern usage of the idiom. Often a person will use the term in a self-deprecating manner.

If you have ever started a new job and were assigned to a team of all new people, you might feel this is an example of “the blind leading the blind.” I know this from experience. The team members aren’t necessarily incompetent, but they are all learning at the same time, so it will take some time until they can get current processes right or come up with new ones. On top of that, various members might be tasked with training others who has just started no to long after.

It’s especially true for brand new companies. Normally, everyone is figuring out how the market works, where they fit in, and what processes would work best for their company. Here is another new team put together that is still figuring everything out.

Of course, I’m sure anyone can think of many more examples. It goes to show that “the blind leading the blind” will always carry some weight.


Works Cited

“the blind leading the blind.” Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Cambridge University Press. Web. 10 Apr 2016. <http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/the-blind-leading-the-blind>.

“blind leading the blind.” Dictionary.com via The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. < http://www.dictionary.com/browse/blind-leading-the-blind>.

The Holy Bible. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Philadelphia, PA: National Publishing Company. ©1985. Print.

Martin, Gary. “The blind leading the blind.” The Phrase Finder. Web. 9 Apr. 2016. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/67150.html>.

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2 thoughts on “Famous Sayings: #5 — ‘The Blind Leading the Blind’

  1. This phrase sounds like a perfect example of today’s social media culture gone berserk. Also , there is no “gentleness” in this remark if you think of the travesties happening in the Republican primaries.

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    1. I would probably say that this idiom fits Donald Trump’s case. I’m convinced that he really has no clue what he would do in office. His voters aren’t really thinking ahead and he is appealing to their fears.

      But if you’d ask various people, Ted Cruz is more diabolical. This is the same guy who spearheaded the government shutdown in 2013. It seems like only a year ago.

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