I'm looking for a phrase which essentially means questioning a belief you share with someone, but that other person has an almost unshakable faith in that belief, so your misgivings fall on deaf ears or they try and convince you otherwise without really taking into consideration your points.

Not necessarily religious, but it could be for instance, questioning the negative impact of legal weapons to a friend in the NRA

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    Singing to the preacher? Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 11:20
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    "Like talking to an NRA member"?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 15:38
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    "Preaching to deaf ears."
    – Karen
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 17:57
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    @PatrickM I don't know if I've ever heard "preaching to deaf ears", but it's a nice combination of "X fell on deaf ears" and "preaching to the choir" that captures the intent quite nicely. It someone's not familiar with both idioms, though, it might, heh, fall on deaf ears. Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 22:25
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    It's like preaching vegetarianism to a family of hyenas.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 4:22

11 Answers 11


You could use the expression it's like talking to a brick wall.

It's an established idiom listed in some dictionaries, and it means that you can't get through to the other person.

Another applicable expression might be teaching a pig to sing, from a quote attributed to Heinlein – especially if you find yourself getting frustrated in your efforts.

  • If this is not the best answer, I don't know what
    – dynamite
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 17:53
  • And if you are frustrated with your best efforts and disgusted with the reception, you could say you are casting "pearls before swine".
    – bib
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 20:59

Waste one's breath may fit the context: ( from TFD)

  • to waste one's time talking; to talk in vain. Don't waste your breath talking to her. She won't listen. You can't persuade me. You're just wasting your breath.

  • tell or ask someone something although this will have no effect (often negative) Don't waste your breath. I've already asked her to help and she said no. You'd be wasting your breath reporting it to the police - they never look for stolen bikes.


Most other answers give good idioms specifically for futile conversation. In addition to these, a more general (and perhaps fancier-sounding) phrase that applies here is an exercise in futility. It means nothing will change in spite of the action you're taking.


You might be looking for -

"Being the devil's advocate" - advocating an opposing view (that you may or may not support but the listener firmly does) , often for the sake of argument (opposing for the sake of argument)

The above seems to mean the opposite of the idiom :

"Preaching to the choir"- to make one's case primarily to one's supporters (convincing in vain);

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    I don't think this is antonymic, really. Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 17:13
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    Antonyms to an idiom are quite context specific really. Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 18:39
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    I think that "being the devil's advocate" has a specific meaning which takes it into a different context: the devil's advocate doesn't necessarily believe or agree with the position they're taking, but they take that position deliberately to more fully explore the issue. So the devil's advocate isn't really advocating a position at all, which makes it neither the same as or the opposite to "preaching to the choir". Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 10:31

You could be said to be "banging your head against a brick wall".

More colourfully you could be said to be "pissing into the wind"

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    Both of these more often emphasize action leading to unintentional self-harm. The asker is only looking for an expression of futility. I wouldn't use either of these idioms to express the ideas in the question.
    – talrnu
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 15:35
  • If taken literally they would have that meaning, but as non-literal expressions they do not imply self-harm, only the futility of the action itself...
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 15:35
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    Fair enough- Are the Cambridge Dictionaries reputable enough for you? dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/british/…
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 16:08
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    Fair enough indeed. I'll concede to that on technicality, though I stand by my reasoning.
    – talrnu
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 16:14
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    @MarvMills Doing something useless but inconsequential is 'blowing into a violin', doing something stupid (not seeing the consequences) is 'pissing into the wind'. That leaves 'pissing into a violin'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 19:46

'Flogging a dead horse' springs to mind. This is a very popular phrase here in England which means spending time and effort on something which will ultimately be fruitless.

The phrase I think stems from the idea 'beating a dead horse will not make it do any more work' (you are wasting your time).

  • Not really; 'flogging a dead horse' implies repetition in some fashion. But here, the OP might be being persuasive to any average person
    – smci
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 15:55
  • I disagree. It implies trying to persuade something which has no chance of responding. You could compare the average person to a living horse where there would be some chance of response. I don't get the repetition link
    – bboybeatle
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 16:04

One expression I thought of when reading this was "Falling on deaf ears"

You mentioned it in your original post, but that's what I would use.


How about 'casting your pearls before swine'?


I use "You are talking to the wrong end of the mule" -- although that carries the implication that the audience either cannot understand you or cannot do anything about your complaint, not that it does not agree with you.


When I first saw "antonym of 'preaching to the choir'", I thought of "appealing to the masses". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage @. We're looking for answers with more detail. Your post would be improved if it included a reference and an explanation of why it answers the question.
    – user63230
    Commented Dec 16, 2014 at 21:54
  • That is an opposite of "preaching to the choir" ... but not in the sense that the questioner is asking for.
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 15:51

My personal favourite is:

"A bit like reading aloud from 'Satanic Verses' in a Mosque"

... can't remember what TV-show or movie the quote is from.

  • A German author actually proposed doing this in 2007, but the expression occurred online in 2003. However, this is like "waving a red flag at a bull," expecting a furious reaction, not attempting to persuade someone and finding it futile because of their intransigence.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 6:46

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