I can’t resist telling this one again. Last May in priesthood meeting the photographers collecting photos for the ward directory suggested that the photos might end up on the “Blogosphere.” After they mentioned the word “Blogosphere” three times, I replied: “In the Church, we call it the “Bloggernacle.”
To my surprise, this drew gaffaws from the entire room, as if I had invented the term there and then as a joke of some kind.
Clearly, the Bloggernacle is just an subset of LDS Church members, who find something that resonates here. But we should keep in mind that most members hardly know what a blog is, let alone the Bloggernacle.
When I discussed this on A Motley Vision, I asked for new terms (Mo-terms, as one commenter called them) — words or phrases that have been recently invented, or that have somehow come up with a Mormon context or meaning that they didn’t have before.
Since then, I’ve realized that we really have an extensive Mormon-specific vocabulary, if you look at words carefully. In addition to terms that have been invented for Mormonism, we have a lot of terms that seem familiar to others, but have meanings that are unique to Mormonism. Tabernacle, Sustain, Seventy, Auxiliaries and Release all have specific Mormon meanings or contexts that make their use sometimes unintelligible to others.
This is nothing new. Years ago Orson Scott Card put together a dictionary of sorts, Saintspeak: The Mormon Dictionary, published in 1981 and now long out of print. But it wasn’t much of a dictionary, because it was meant to be a joke, a way of poking fun at ourselves.
Personally, I don’t believe that Mormon language is necessarily a joke. Yes many of our terms are odd or funny (but then what language doesn’t have a few terms that are inherently funny or at least odd). And I even see a role for a kind of list of Mormon terms.
I’m not the only one. The compilers of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism included a glossary of basic Mormon terms, which has been pirated by several LDS sites as a guide for non-Members to LDS terms. Unfortunately, it is out-of-date (doesn’t include Area Authority Seventy), very incomplete, doesn’t include historical terms (no Gleaners or M-Men) and oriented towards formal language (includes Relief Society, but not Molly Mormon).
The more that I look at this, I think there are probably several thousand terms that have Mormon meanings to them, especially if you include common phrases that have come to mean more than the individual words in English mean (“indicate by the uplifted hand” or “physical death” or “testament of Jesus Christ”).
So, I’ve started collecting a list of such terms, and, borrowing from the Wiktionary, I’ve put together the site Mormon Terms hoping that others will see some value in such a list. The site is in its infancy (don’t expect much – I think I just have one term set up so far, and a list of terms that can be done that start with “A”), but I have a list of several thousand potential terms to add in the next few days and weeks.
I guess the question here is if such a dictionary has value. The Church itself hasn’t tried to put together such a glossary — believing, I suppose, that new members will somehow learn the terminology, or that it will give them an opportunity to interact with other members by asking what things mean.
But even if it is best to leave new members without a detailed guide, I think that such a list is valuable for helping us understand ourselves and the culture that Mormons have developed. Since culture needs groups of people that communicate with each other, the language that group uses to communicate is the container of their culture. Without knowing the language we use, we can’t hope to understand our culture.
Oh, and before I forget to mention it, many missionaries discover that its kind of hard to find adequate definitions of these terms in dictionaries. Since their meanings are often unique to Mormonism, the definitions in dictionaries, if any, usually don’t convey what we expect. Even though I speak Portuguese quite well, and understand Spanish well enough to read Dom Quixote and Calderon, I still don’t know how to translate terms like “added upon” or “common consent” without consulting a dictionary or searching online. And with some terms, the only thing that makes sense is to try to make up a term in the other language (should Molly Mormon be Maria MormÃ³n in Spanish? Maybe Peter Priestood in Portuguese should be SimÃ£o SacerdÃ³cio?) [BIG GRIN – I’m sure they wouldn’t understand these.]
So, I think there is a role for a good dictionary of Mormon terms. Agreed?