What's the origin of the phrase "bleeding deacons"?
April 14, 2004 4:39 PM   Subscribe

Could someone please explain what the phrase "bleeding deacons" means ?
posted by sgt.serenity to Writing & Language (13 answers total)
it's an AA thing, i think (although it sounds like cockney rhyming slang or polari)

(There is also no professional clergy, but true-believing Program oldtimers are often referred to, more or less affectionately, as "bleeding deacons.")
posted by amberglow at 5:00 PM on April 14, 2004

from here, it appears to be a slang term used in alcoholics anonymous:

"The bleeding deacon is one who is just as surely convinced that the group cannot get along without him, who constantly connives for reelection to office, and who continues to be consumed with self-pity."

(found through a search)
posted by rhapsodie at 5:02 PM on April 14, 2004

hmmm , two different results.

i'm wondering why the phrase "bleeding deacon" rather than the 12 by 12 ' s explanation rhapsodie , the real world application mate.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:33 PM on April 14, 2004

sorry , i should clarify that , its not AA 'slang' , it seems to have some origin in the real world , and thats what im trying to find out.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:36 PM on April 14, 2004

Sgt.serenity, you may have to accept that the answers you already have been given are the correct ones.

There seem to be several definitions in play beyond the textbook definition given in "12x12," which could all be combined into something like, "A person with a negative, moralizing character, who acts like the sole source of wisdom."

"Bleeding deacon" may very well have its origins in AA; at least, it is tied in there now, and the earliest cite I could find, from 1988, is specifically connected to AA. Almost all cites come directly from AA discusion forums or topics. It is not a common term, and I would consider it more likely, given the evidence on and off the Internet, that it started in AA and has only rarely drifted into the mainstream.

This Usenet post gives us a clue as to its possible origin:

> The term is "Bleeding Deacon". It's from a story in "As Bill Sees It"
The term Bleeding Deacon is a corruption of an old New England term from the 18th or 19th century. The original term was Bleating Deacon, evoking a farmer's image of an old goat in the pulpit.

I looked for a full-text version of "As Bill Sees It," which was written by Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, but no dice.

This Usenet post is also revelatory:

>Jane, this is not at all what I understand the term "bleeding deacon,"
>as used in AA, to mean. I understand a "bleeding deacons" to be people
>with considerable time sober but lacking the ability to step aside in
>the spirit of rotation.
Another example of the "A.A. twist." When the term was first applied it was intended for those people who have a set of cries such as "it will never work" or "if it ain't broke, then don't fix it." The actual term used was "bleating beacon" (as in sheep). The GV even ran a series titled "The Bleating Deacon's Corner." I prefer the term "bleeding deacon." Truth is that I used to be one but I ran out of blood.

"Bleating deacon," however, comes up even less often than "bleeding deacon," appearing not at all off the Internet. "GV" is Grapevine, a publication of AA. There does not seem to be an online archive of GV; however, I have a contact with an AA librarian here in New York, and, given the time, will pursue this, and other terms.

Off the Internet, these are the only citations I could find in the standard archives, including historical archives covering millions of newspaper pages going back a couple hundred years:

1988 N.Y. Times Feb. 21 "The Changing World of Alcoholics Anonymous" p. 6-40: If anything is going to destroy A.A.,'' says Dr. John Norris, a nonalcoholic physician, friend of Bill Wilson's and for many years chairman of A.A.'s board of trustees, ''it will be what I call the 'tradition lawyers.' They find it easier to live with black and white than they do with gray. These 'bleeding deacons' -these fundamentalists - are afraid of and fight any change.

1990 I'll Quit Tomorrow : A Practical Guide to Alcoholism Treatment by Vernon E. Johnson. p. 67: "The 'dry drunk' being referred to here is different from the rigidity found in those who are referred to as 'bleeding deacons' in a later chapters; here we are dealing with a progressive discomfort with abstinence, which leads eventually to a relapse." p. 92: "Even in aftercare or AA, if this quality of rigidity continues, it can reach a point where patients are no longer viewed by their peers in recovery as a zealot for the program but as 'bleeding deacons' who insist loudly that 'my way is the only way to make the program.'"

1991 Understanding the Twelve Steps: A Interpretation and Guide for Recovering People by Terence T. Gorski. p. 123: People who behave in this manner in the A.A. program--those who abandon self in the effort to help others--are called 'bleeding deacons.' They don't 'walk like they talk.' They sponsor hundreds of people but are miserable themselves. They often have 'white knuckle' sobriety and live in a 'dry drunk." They lose themselves within the Twelve Step program. They are so caught up in trying to interpret the Steps and sharing the message with others that they forget to use the principles in their own lives. They don't recognize that A.A. is a selfish program. You must help yourself before you can help anyone else. You must recover first.

1997 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Feb. 20 "Gambling's Not the Answer" p. A14: Our town is going nuts with gambling. I don't have a conversation with my friends when we're not talking about off-track betting, the Meadows, the Lotto or poker machines. I am not a Bible-thumper or bleeding deacon, but I'm really ticked off!

2003 Contemporary Drug Problems "Recovery careers of people in Alcoholics Anonymous: moral careers revisited," Fall Vol. XXX, Iss. 3, p. 64: While a wealth of research has been devoted to studying the recovery careers of AA participants, the primary focus has been on the moral career of the member who abstains from alcohol, commits herself to AA activities, and embeds herself in social networks that largely consist of other AA members. As a result, we learn mostly about the ideal career path that people should follow in recovery, and not the range of moral careers that members actually exhibit. I compensate for this shortcoming by analyzing the range of roles and statuses occupied by AA Insiders, including AA Regulars, Rank and File members, Bleeding Deacons, Elder Statesmen, and Circuit Speakers.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:08 PM on April 14, 2004

PS: Most of my slang dictionaries are at the office; I'll take a look there tomorrow and see if there's anything other dimension to this term's history.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:09 PM on April 14, 2004

now , this 1991 reference seems to make a bit more sense mo , thanks for a great post .
I'm beginning to get my head round what the term might mean.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:14 AM on April 15, 2004

The slang dictionaries offer no additional clues to this usage.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:04 AM on April 15, 2004

I highly doubt the term originated within AA. AA's literature was written in the vernacular of the time - the main purpose being to connect with the common man, and all slang used was popular slang from that period.

I don't know the exact publication date of the 12 and 12, but the AA big book was authored in the 1930's, so my rough guess is the 12 and 12 was authored sometime between the 1930's and 1950's. I would look for sources from this time period or before.
posted by jazzkat11 at 8:02 AM on April 15, 2004

The first edition of "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" was published in 1953, according to the Library of Congress, although other dates given elsewhere are 1951 and 1952.

None of the online copies (which are generally badly done, in any case) seem authoritative.

But if the first edition *did* have "bleeding deacons" in it, then that is *more* evidence that the term originated with the AA. There's no evidence suggesting it didn't originate with AA and plenty to suggest that it did.

But, as you say, and is always the case, more sources would be better.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:27 AM on April 15, 2004

While searching, I came across this link to a speech given by Frederick Douglass in which he closely correlates the terms 'bleeding' and 'deacon' in much the same way AA's literature has. A possible, if not loose, connection?
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:10 AM on April 15, 2004

Iffy, but interesting. I think the main correlation here is the religious undertones of AA: elders and deacons are both terms for church personnel, particularly in Protestant churches.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:38 AM on April 15, 2004

i guess the term 'bleeding ' means somebody who is wounded and should really be fixing themselves.

and the term 'deacon' is kind of a person who polices others in someway.

so its somebody who should be fixing themselves but tries to fix somebody else , it must originate from some protestant term , thats what i'm thinking but i think i got the real meaning of the phrase though so thanks very much.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:35 PM on April 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

« Older Shopping in NYC   |   Canadian Heritage Moments Online Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.