As far as I know "parochial" means of or relating to a church/parish. My dictionary (and Google, or that matters, also says so.)

But recently, I've heard it also means "narrow-minded" (or something similar). Can anyone tell if this is true? I know one should know better than to ask WHY a word means what it means, but I really want to know how/why "parochial" could mean "narrow-minded".


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  • 1
    Back in 9th grade, I mistakenly thought that the "parochial school" Sylvia Browne went to was unsophisticated. I think I got the wrong definition from my dictionary when I looked up the word "parochial"! – Double U Jan 31 '14 at 3:39
  • This answer may help. english.stackexchange.com/a/56956/14666 – Kris Jan 31 '14 at 6:46
  • General Reference Sense 3 - probably the most commonly-used today - Narrowly restricted in scope or outlook; provincial: parochial attitudes. – FumbleFingers Jan 31 '14 at 13:15

A parish would be one of the smallest divisions of territory, so someone with a parochial view would be focused on small bits rather than the overall picture.

"Provincial" can be used in a similar way.

  • 1
    I was thinking the same thing about provincial. – Bradd Szonye Jan 31 '14 at 3:49
  • Please see my comment & link at OP. – Kris Jan 31 '14 at 6:47

In Collins (under US usage) this is the first definition for parochial

narrow in outlook or scope; provincial

the second being

of or relating to a parish or parishes

Merriam-Webster, on the other hand offers this:

  1. of or relating to a church parish
  2. of or relating to a parish as a unit of local government
  3. confined or restricted as if within the borders of a parish: limited in range or scope (as to a narrow area or region): provincial, narrow

Cambridge lists the two meanings as separate entries

  • parochial adj OF A CHURCH
  • parochial adj LIMITED

As to why, I like Spehro Pefhany's explanation.

On a personal note, during a sermon in which the priest admonished the public to become involved in some action, my 10 year old brother whispered to my father "We're not public, we're Catholic (with a capital C)!" believing the school attendance distinction (we were Catholic school kids, not public schoolers) carried over into all aspects of life.

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