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I've recently seen a phrasing that I don't think I've ever heard before. But that is often a sign more of consciousness rather than evidence.

The phrase is:

hearts and prayers.

There are similar phrases used, usually as condolences or a response to some distant disaster where only words can be given. It seems to appear in the identical situations as:

thoughts and prayers,

meaning something like "we are keeping you in our thoughts/are worried for you, and we also are wishing hard for you in a religious/mystical way actively wishing for better things."

But there is a similar sounding phrase, but distinct in intention:

hearts and minds.

This usually is used in the sense of convincing a population of the preferability of something, usually political. I remember it in the context of the last Iraq War, were the invading force had to convert the hearts (the inclination) and minds (thoughts) of the local populace as to the goodness of the invasion.

My question is about 'hearts and prayers'. It seems to be a little pleonastic, prayers being already intimated in the more spiritual heart, and the more rational thoughts or minds being somehow left out. Sure, it sounds like a good condolence, but it feels like something is missing (an 'and' usually goes between two independent or contrasting things). Often such statements are pleasant but empty but at least they hold up to scrutiny.

So is 'hearts and prayers' a malapropism a mangling of the two similar phrases, or an eggcorn where 'thoughts' is replaced by the similar sounding 'hearts'.


The recent example I saw was a tweet from 25 Aug 2018:

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

I have done a Google Books search for instances of all, and there is no clear pattern to me, and since GB only goes up to 2012, I can't tell if there is a trend since then.

  • Interesting, but probably POB. – user240918 Aug 28 '18 at 15:56
  • Real life examples with context? – Mari-Lou A Aug 28 '18 at 15:56
  • 2
    Donald Trump's tweet two days ago – bookmanu Aug 28 '18 at 16:01
  • 1
    hearts, prayers , thoughts , minds : various mixes and matches now 'heard' in AmE – lbf Aug 28 '18 at 16:22
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    Why does this have to be something other than just two words joined together by somebody on the spur of the moment? Not everything needs to be placed within the context of something that's come before. You may be looking for a meaning that doesn't exist. – Jason Bassford Aug 28 '18 at 18:34
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Hearts and minds and thoughts and prayers are present in dictionaries, unlike hearts and prayers.

Hearts and minds , of biblical reminiscence, has probably gained popularity with the Vietnam War. From the Phrase Finder:

  • A reader sent columnist William Safire antecedents from the Bible, a letter John Adams wrote in 1818, and a conversation Teddy Roosevelt had with Douglas MacArthur. Reporters and military officers in Vietnam labeled the 'winning hearts and minds' approach 'WHAM.' The Green Berets had their own version: 'Get them by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow.'" "Quote Verifier: Who said What, Where, and When" by Ralph Keyes (St. Martin's Press, New York, 2006) Page 236.

Thoughts and prayers is a relatively more recent construction (mid- 18th century):

  • The phrase "thoughts and prayers" is often used by public officials offering condolences after any publicly notable event such as a deadly natural disaster.

According to google Books hearts and prayers is the less common of the three expressions, but its earliest usages date back to the mid 1700s and was mainly found in religious contexts.

enter image description here

From The Magazine of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. 1784:

  • I desire to acknowledge it a great mercy that God hath given me an intereft in the hearts and prayers of so many of his faithful fervants. - 6. “ I desire to acknowledge it a great mercy, that God hath made me a child of godly parents, and a child of ...

Evidence suggests that all three expressions have been used for centuries now, even though hearts and prayers to a lesser extent than the other two sayings.

It doesn’t appear that “hearts and prayers” developed as a malapropism or eggcorn of the other two expressions, but rather as an independent saying which draw on common religious terms and concepts.

  • 1) can you give a picture of the Google Books chart (replace 'graph' with 'chart' in the 'insert graphic'.) 2) can you say anything about eggcorn vs malapropism (or both) beyond the non-existence of links? – Mitch Aug 28 '18 at 16:24
  • books.google.com/ngrams/… paste the URL address in the insert image – Mari-Lou A Aug 28 '18 at 16:26
  • From viewing the examples given by Google Books, it is clear that 'hearts and prayers' is often used in the same condolence contexts as 'thoughts and prayers'. – Mitch Aug 28 '18 at 22:14
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I think you have a fair reason to suspect that it might be some sort of malapropism or eggcorn, because it's such a cliche that's repeated so often, it's almost like a set phrase.

Wikipedia has an entire article on "Thoughts and prayers".
Thoughts and prayers

The phrase "thoughts and prayers" is often used by public officials offering condolences after any publicly notable event such as a deadly natural disaster. The phrase has received criticism for its repeated usage in the context of gun violence or terrorism, with critics claiming "thoughts and prayers" are offered as substitutes for actions they believe would be corrective, like gun control or counterterrorism.

After the Stoneman Douglas school shooting Slate magazine had noticed that some republicans avoided using this exact phrase. See Republicans Have Finally Stopped Using the Phrase “Thoughts and Prayers”

Trump and senators Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey avoided using the specific phrase "thoughts and prayers" in response to the shooting.
Wikipedia article

Trump tweeted:

My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting.
Trump's tweet

So one conjecture I could make is that "thoughts and prayers" has accumulated such a negative association with speaking token words instead of instituting policy change that the term is being served up in different variations to avoid its likely negative reception. However this is a pure guess, and I don't think it's a good one.

I have another guess, and I think it's better. I was interested in how the words "thoughts and prayers" appear in terms of their surrounding words. In other words, do thoughts/prayers/hearts "go out" to people, or are they "with" people.

This Google NGram shows that "thoughts and prayers go out" is less common than "thoughts and prayers are with".

enter image description here

But they still "go out". Nancy Pelosi, in the second video of the Wikipedia article says "we send our thoughts and prayers." There's no doubt "thoughts and prayers" are "sent out", or "go out" to people.

Also, you'll notice on that chart how common another idiom is, namely "for someone's heart to go out".

So I figure that "heart" can be easily and instinctively substituted either for "thoughts" or "prayers" given the prominence of the "heart goes out" idiom, and the fact that "thoughts and prayers" go out to people.

In that sense "thoughts and prayers" may be a cliche snowclone of sorts, where people tend to swap a word for a another. In Trump's case, he used "condolences" instead of "thoughts", and simply followed it with "to the families..."

This is another guess though, I don't have any evidence for this. The problem is I don't whether "hearts and prayers" is a conflation of two different expressions.

  • @SvenYargs If you actually look at the examples that NGram finds, 'hearts and prayers' is used by many in similar condolence situations. So it is mostly likely just a reasonable alternative that was always there. So it is not a malapropism. It may be an eggcorn, but re Carduus, 'thought and prayers' may actually be later. – Mitch Aug 29 '18 at 2:37
  • @Mitch: Undeniably, the phrase has long existed as part of a formula for expressing condolence or spiritual solidarity. I am not an objective reader of the output of the tweeter in question, so I shouldn't weigh in on how I think he makes his sausage. I've deleted my previous comment here. – Sven Yargs Aug 29 '18 at 3:46
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This is OLD old. Like, 1700's old. Its original context is that we 'lift our hearts and prayers to the Lord', often in song. Here's a 1740 example on page 3, a third down the page: A further account of the progress of the circulating Welsh charity. So while misused in this context, I don't think 'hearts and minds' is a part of the equation, just conflating 'thoughts and prayers' with 'hearts and prayers'.

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    So you're saying, at least in the religious context, it's not really a malapropism but a misuse of one accepted phrase for another in a similar but distinct context? (I don't know what the history of 'thoughts and prayers' is either). – Mitch Aug 28 '18 at 19:31
  • Exactly. It doesn't exactly fit the use-case, but it's close enough. Thoughts and Prayers isn't quite as old: books.google.com/books?id=HMsCAAAAQAAJ&dq – Carduus Aug 28 '18 at 19:44

protected by MetaEd Aug 29 '18 at 18:36

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