Special Feelings (more on Mormon Language)

September 3, 2008 | 42 comments
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This morning I heard a member of Utah’s delegation to the Republican National Convention tell a radio talk show host that “there is a really special feeling among the Republican delegation.” Could you run that by me again? Because in my world, “special feeling” is Mormon code for “Holy Spirit.” Can I help it if I suddenly had visions of a sacrament-meeting-esque convention with testimonies and tears? What is going on out there in Minnesota?

Seriously, though, after I got done laughing, I started wondering about language. I really have no qualms with Mormons having a peculiar tongue; organizations as diverse as the federal government, international corporations, and college campuses all seem to acquire acronyms and other words to describe policies, programs, buildings, and regulations. So we go to RS Enrich and need to do our VT or HT but not on Monday night because that is FHE. I’m fine with that. At BYU you might want to go the WILK for lunch before you study in the MARB or Harold.

I find it intriguing, however, when regular words are used as part of the secret code. Anyone could have heard the radio broadcast, and the words would have made sense. There is nothing innately Mormon about “special feelings.” The words might mean that there is a nice feeling of camaraderie at the convention or that patriotic emotions are running high. But the words mean something different to one schooled in Mormon code. “Special” is a cipher word, though it is a tricky one because “special” means different things depending on what it is describing. The “special” girl you went out with last week is not at all similar to the “special feeling” you had during testimony meeting. Can you help me think of other words that have different meanings in an LDS cultural context? Possibly I should change that last question: do the words have a different meaning in a Utah LDS context? Do these code words have “special” meaning to anyone who is LDS? or are they American- or even Utah-based Mormon slang?

You can let me know about it tomorrow because tonight I’ll be watching the Republican National Convention. I pray every day to follow the guidance of the Spirit, so I’m watching the RNC. You know, just in case.

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42 Responses to Special Feelings (more on Mormon Language)

  1. Tim on September 3, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Study in the MARB? Where? Unless things have changed in the last couple years…

  2. What About Mom on September 3, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Um, I think you’re thinking of that scene in The Cutting Edge where they’re talking about the “special feeling” that exists within the Olympic pair figure-skating team. (That after the main girl (Moira Kelly?), has seen the main guy (Doug?) coming out of the other team’s female’s room).

    No? Are you sure? Did I just reveal my loyalties to great chick flicks rather than the Spirit?

  3. Kylie Turley on September 3, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Right you are, Tim. I studied in the back of basement classroom in the MARB. I’m strange.

    What About Mom: I didn’t remember that line from Cutting Edge. Is that the new version or the old? But you are definitely right. There could be lots of special feelings, and maybe the guy from the Utah Republican party was having more of an Olympic figure skating feeling rather than a Spirit feeling. It’s rather difficult to know what special feeling he is having, isn’t it?

  4. Sarah on September 3, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I can’t help but feel like every time a Utah politician or Mitt Romney speaks, it’s incredibly obvious that they’re LDS. I think Romney got about five words out this evening before he started spouting out Mormonisms. My non-member friends can’t tell with quite the level of accuracy that I and other young/obsessive Mormons can… but I sometimes wonder if the linguistic differences helped people along the way to deciding that he was “creepy” or fake in some way. It’s I think the most immediately obvious “stiff” or artificial signal Mormons send (the teeth, hair, height, happy family, matching outfits, wealth, rosy cheeks, etc., were a non-small part of it as well, obviously.)

    And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a non-Mormon say “special feeling” in an earnest, non-sarcastic kind of way. I think half of our problem is that we actually mean what we say so much of the time.

  5. Kent Larsen on September 4, 2008 at 12:38 am

    Over the past few weeks I’ve been going through the last General Conference marking phrases that had exactly this — meaning to LDS Church members that wasn’t obvious to others. My intent is to add them to the Mormon Terms Wiki after I’ve identified them all. It may take a bit of work to describe how they have a different meaning or shade of meaning or context for Mormons, but I think in the end the use of these terms are among the most fascinating.

    Here’s some of what I’ve marked so far:

    *Solemn assembly
    *All in favor
    *the uplifted hand
    *please manifest it
    *Any opposed.
    *common consent
    *heritage from the Lord
    *divine potential
    *correct principles
    *go forward in faith
    *true and living church
    *fervent prayer

    So far I’ve marked up terms for about half the conference. The above come from just the first three addresses, including the sustainings.

    One of the things that I find fascinating is the sheer number of phrases like this that are unique or principally used in Mormonism, or that have some unusual meaning to LDS Church members. I suspect that the Mormon Terms Wiki will end up with thousands, if not tens of thousands of words and phrases defined, the vast majority of them unique or unusual phrases with shades of meaning that only LDS Church members actually get.

  6. MSG on September 4, 2008 at 12:58 am

    As I watched the RNC tonight, the only special feeling I got was one of combativeness, sarcasm and attacks–totally the opposite of the Spirit. I wonder what special feeling they were referring to in the morning.

  7. Kent Larsen on September 4, 2008 at 1:52 am

    MSG, watch the Daily Show for Wednesday night. They (humorously) detailed exactly what special feeling they thought the RNC was after. And no, it wasn’t good (it was actually quite combatative and a rather nasty swipe at the RNC — but what do you expect from the Daily Show?).

    No LDS-coded terms used there.

  8. Bill MacKinnon on September 4, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Would I be wrong in assuming that the phrase “sustaining leaders” has a quite different meaning in the LDS world than among non-members? Although the words member and non-member are not peculiar to Mormonism, I also sense that they are used a lot more and with more significance behind them in the LDS Church than is the case with most U.S. based religions and denominations. Finally, in and around Utah I seem to hear the word proselytizing rendered as something that sounds like proselighting. Am I hearing right?

  9. Aaron on September 4, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Whenever I get a “special feeling,” it’s usually nausea.

  10. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on September 4, 2008 at 8:30 am

    I think Kent Larsen’s effort to add to the “Mormon Terms” Wiki is laudable. Thank you. It should bring us more light and knowledge.

    Kylie your observation about “special feeling” as a Mormon code for “Holy Spirit” is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, you are very observant. I don’t know what else to call it, but Mormons are bi-lingual!

    A convert’s first experience with the missionaries is the effort to see our world from the Lord’s view point through prayer. After baptism comes the confirmation and with it the gift of the Holy Ghost. This Holy Spirit is our companion for as long as we are obedient to His Word and He becomes our life long interpreter of things celestial.

    A Mormon is a constant translator of his/her temporal and/or celestial environment. To learn about the temporal world, we use the “eyes of our minds”. To learn of things celestial, we use the “eyes of faith”.

    In chapter 32, Alma teaches the Zoramites how to increase focus of the “eyes of faith”. A chapter worth reading right now.

    edu

  11. Wilfried on September 4, 2008 at 9:37 am

    “Pray for moisture” as Mormon parlance has been pointed out more than once in blogs.

  12. queuno on September 4, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Did anyone catch Thurl Bailey’s invocation? If you closed your eyes, it “felt” like general conference.

  13. Kylie Turley on September 4, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Bill, I’ve heard that too. Definitely “proselighting.”

    Eduard, I’m sure it didn’t sound like it, but I agree with you. I think it is a huge stretch to say that the #2 in the Utah Repub party leadership was actually meaning to say that he felt the Spirit at the convention. I’m sure he would deny that. However, “special feeling” is–in my experience and opinion–used frequently to mean the Spirit, ie, “There was a special feeling in sacrament meeting today” or “I had a distinct and special feeling when I considered calling her on the phone today, so I did it.” Probably we are so used to using certain phrases that they fall out of our mouths even if they do not fit the context.

    But I often have heard it used sarcastically, too–to suggest something opposite than the Spirit, almost to mock someone who thinks they are feeling the Spirit. That is what makes it a fascinating word to me. Sometimes I teach my students about “code-switching,” the ability to alter their language and writing for their particular audience. Using some of these words is sort of the opposite of code-switching. We use one word but our different audiences hear different meanings.

  14. Left Field on September 4, 2008 at 10:07 am

    The Harold? I guess that would be the HBLL? Probably not the HRCB? That must be another usage that has arisen since my time at BYU–like the odd pronunciation of SFLC that was discussed not long ago somewhere on the bloggernacle.

  15. Mark Stilt on September 4, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    \”Secret Combination\” is one that you\’ll only get in an LDS Setting. Wasn\’t unusual among \’gentiles\’ before the Church was organized; but now seems ALMOST exclusive to LDS (Though, if memory serves, I DID hear it used ONCE on television during some ‘news’ type program, by one of the talking heads).

    At any rate, while most folks speak of “gangs”, “criminal underworld”, “mafia”, “communists”, “secret societies”, “russian mob”, “tong societies”, etc., we cover it all with \”Secret Combinations\”.

  16. Mark Stilt on September 4, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    \”Secret Combination\” is one that you\’ll only get in an LDS Setting. Wasn\’t unusual among \’gentiles\’ before the Church was organized; but now seems ALMOST exclusive to LDS (Though, if memory serves, I DID hear it used ONCE on television during some ‘news’ type program, by one of the talking heads).

    At any rate, while most folks speak of “gangs”, “criminal underworld”, “mafia”, “communists”, “secret societies”, “russian mob”, “tong societies”, etc., we cover it all with \”Secret Combinations\”.

  17. JKS on September 4, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    It is proselyting.

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/proselyte

    VerbInfinitive
    to proselyte
    Third person singular
    proselytes
    Simple past
    proselyted
    Past participle
    proselyted
    Present participle
    proselyting

    to proselyte (third-person singular simple present proselytes, present participle proselyting, simple past and past participle proselyted)

    (transitive) To proselytize.

  18. Kylie Turley on September 4, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Kent, are you looking for exclusively Mormon words or are you including BYU/LDS dating slang as well?

  19. Kent Larsen on September 4, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    I think we should cast as wide a net as possible. Let’s include BYU/LDS dating slang also.

  20. MoJo on September 4, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Um, I think you’re thinking of that scene in The Cutting Edge where they’re talking about the “special feeling” that exists within the Olympic pair figure-skating team.

    “Orgasmic.”

    Over the past few weeks I’ve been going through the last General Conference marking phrases that had exactly this

    Kent, I don’t know if you’re aware of this; if so, I apologize. There are linguistics programs/word and phrase cullers that will do some of this heavy lifting for you.

  21. MSG on September 5, 2008 at 1:34 am

    Thanks Kent, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report were priceless this week!

  22. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on September 5, 2008 at 8:07 am

    Mark Stilt, you raised the issue of secret combinations and named a few of them, such as “gangs”, “Mafia”. Let’s add to it some legal combinations, such as the “USA”, the “Chamber of Commerce”, “Labor Unions”etc. Their leaders often become usurpers and transgressors of the law of Moses.

    All living creatures have an electro-chemical automatic response to threatening situation. It is called instinct.

    Language gave us the ability to reason and that makes us unique among all flesh. It gives us the opportunity to hide our intention from others. Each of us, has the ability to manipulate our worldly surrounding mentally, to create situations justifying our own behavior. “Groups of likeminded people” can modify facts and concepts temporally for their benefit. This is what I call the “eyes of the mind” and it is not necessarily undesirable or bad.

    Let’s not forget some sacred combinations.

    The “family” consisting of a man, a woman under covenant with the Lord for eternal purposes. The scriptures also allow for a “family” consisting of a man and woman under the law, for temporal purposes. Ostensibly to penalize, either the man or the woman, if they abandon the results of their creative responsibilities.

    The “house of Israel” under the leadership of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Moses and Jacob, whose name was changed to “Israel”, meaning “one who prevails with the Lord”. Let’s not forget His prophets, because the Lord will do nothing without telling His prophets.

    Finally, the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” under the leadership of Lehi, Nephi and Joseph Smith, Jr. Of course, the Lord’s spokesmen, His prophets.

    What attracted me to these sacred combinations is the concept of the “condescension of the Son of God”. The idea that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would consent to be judged and face the executioner of the usurpers and transgressors fo His father’s authority, appeals to me.

    And that His plan of redemption would allow me to return home, where I was, before I was born. Of course, knowing that my political tormentors will face His wrath and judgments gives me patience and comfort.

    edu

  23. Kylie Turley on September 5, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Kent, I picked up a not-that-great novel from Seagull book that might interest you, if you want to include dating colloquialisms. It’s called Meet Your Match by Stephanie Flowers (Covenant Comm, 2007). It had words and phrases that I’d never heard before and even began with a “Singles Ward Dictionary.”

    Here are a few of the terms:
    Squirrelly girl
    Back-burner Boy
    Bitter Boy
    Burnt Girl
    Barnacle
    Claim Staker
    Safe Guy

    and etc. Like I said, I hadn’t heard these before–but I’m not involved in the singles ward scene right now, so I’m not sure if these were book vocabulary or terms that are more pervasive in the LDS culture. Interesting, in any case.

  24. mjp on September 5, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    A word for your list: presidency.

  25. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    MoJo (20):
    I did know that such programs exist, but the last time I looked around for one, I couldn’t find anything that I didn’t have to pay at least $100 or more for. So, if you know of a way to get one of these programs for free, I’m all ears! [Preferably something that runs on Mac or Linux. I don't do windows.]

  26. David T. on September 5, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Sorry, this thread just reminded me of this. Probably the Judah in me:

    Oskar Schindler: That’s not what I was going to say. I made Goeth promise to put in a good word for you. Nothing bad is going to happen to you there, you’ll receive special treatment.

    Itzhak Stern: The directives coming in from Berlin talk about “special treatment” more and more often. I’d like to think that’s not what you mean.

    Oskar Schindler: Preferential treatment. All right? Do we have to create a new language?

    Itzhak Stern: I think so.

  27. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Eduard A. Erdtsieck (22):

    What exactly does this have to do with the subject of this post? I don’t think it helps us understand any Mormon terminology. It seems like its more about theology and doctrine than anything else.

  28. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Kylie Turley (23):

    Great list. I think its very helpful for Mormon Terms, and probably very interesting for others also.

    I’m now wondering if this “Singles Ward Dictionary” also exists outside the book somewhere.

  29. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    OK, I found another singles-oriented LDS vocabulary list. Like the one from the book you mentioned, I’m not familiar with the terms:

    http://ldssinglesister.blogspot.com/2008/01/vocab.html

  30. Kylie Turley on September 5, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Kent 29–wow. what a list. it makes me glad I’m married.

  31. MoJo on September 5, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Kent (25): I’ve heard good things about this: http://www.antlab.sci.waseda.ac.jp/antconc_index.html

  32. Bill MacKinnon on September 5, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    JKS, thanks re “proselyting” (#17). Now I have to try to remember what a transitive verb is. Uh, is that BYU English Dept. code talk?

  33. Kent Larsen on September 5, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Bill (31): The quick answer is simple, but may not be completely helpful: A transitive verb requires an object. It is NOT BYU English Dept. code talk — it is definitely English-teacher/linguistics/linguist jargon.

    So, in the basic sentence, Subject verb object, the object must be there if the verb is a transitive verb.

    Example: “to read” is generally a transitive verb. You have to read something, so usually you say something like “I read the book.” Even when you leave out the object (such as saying “I read”, it is usually implied that there was something for you to read.

    For the record, you do NOT have to know what a “transitive verb” is to work on the Mormon Terms wiki.

  34. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on September 6, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Kent Larsen #27, I thought you’d never ask. My “Special feeling” comes from somewhere! Am I to conclude from your comment, that the source of my “special feeling” is taboo? Must I only express peripherally on the ideas Kylie raised initially, but not internally?

    It seems that the LDS Church doctrines are the basis of all the words and phrases discussed in these postings! Do you “feel” that I must write only about the “what’s there” in LDS doctrine and must conceal my source?

    Perhaps, instead of endlessly listing words and phrases, like a dictionary, to which I have no objections. I am an avid dictionary user myself. I envision the result of your effort in #5, more as a thesaurus with chronological, historical and socio-cultural connectivity. Don’t you agree?

    I prefer a thesaurus over a dictionary, because the thesaurus is more than a listing of facts and ideas, it provides a frame work for organizing my thoughts. Both of these books are next to my computer and I’ll be helpless without either one.

    edu

  35. jp beahm on September 6, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    it seems to me that y\’all have some quirky grammar going on too. in lds general conferences, one hears frequent use of some of the following:

    \”much of [noun]\” (and occasionally \”less of [noun]\” as well)
    passive sentences (often to make emphatic points – hello, monson!)
    the ever-awkward constructions to set up \”in the name…\” (at the end of prayers)
    semi-antiquated exhortations, like \”let us…\”

    but it\’s worth noting that this goes beyond mormonism. sarah palin\’s slick \”servant\’s heart\” reference, as well as (in my opinion) the rnc focus on \”service\” is all coded bible-speak. i find the pageantry generally uninteresting, but i couldn\’t help but notice the jarring attacks on community organizing, especially given the growing awareness in recent years that a term like \”service\” carries a lot of condescending baggage.

    no matter – go big t bailey!

    (ps. apart from mormon friends, i\’ve never heard \”proselyte\” as a verb, always \”proselytize\”…)

  36. jp beahm on September 6, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    it seems to me that y\’all have some quirky grammar going on too. in lds general conferences, one hears frequent use of some of the following:

    “much of [noun]” (and occasionally “less of [noun]” as well)
    passive sentences (often to make emphatic points – hello, monson!)
    the ever-awkward constructions to set up “in the name…” (at the end of prayers)
    semi-antiquated exhortations, like “let us…”

    but it\’s worth noting that this goes beyond mormonism. sarah palin’s slick “servant’s heart” reference, as well as (in my opinion) the rnc focus on “service” is all coded bible-speak. i find the pageantry generally uninteresting, but i couldn’t help but notice the jarring attacks on community organizing, especially given the growing awareness in recent years that a term like “service” carries a lot of condescending baggage.

    no matter – go big t bailey!

    (ps. apart from mormon friends, i’ve never heard “proselyte” as a verb, always “proselytize”…)

  37. Kylie Turley on September 6, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    jp beahm, I noticed the “coded bible-speak” at the rnc as well. I’m not coming up with references off the top of my head, but I definitely heard them. Maybe we’re not as peculiar as we like to think. How do you think the religiously-coded language goes over with members of other faiths and/or agnostics and atheists?

  38. jp beahm on September 6, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    kylie, i suspect many may not notice coded language not aimed at them. that would seem to be its purpose. but i can say that for several non-religious friends of mine the constant references to service are very off-putting precisely because of the frequent willingness for religionists (esp. christians) to let a quarterly or semiannual service project count as their contribution to meaningful societal change, without any long-term investment in relationships with the objects of their so-called charitable actions.

    i have no intent of just fixating on that one point, but it seemed to be such a rallying cry, both positively for republicans, and negatively against those elitist community organizer types.

    another was the idea of small towns and their values – maybe a roundabout way to speak against gay marriage? or against zipcar and starbucks?

  39. Thom on September 7, 2008 at 8:49 am

    kylie, jp (37): in a political context, this is known as \”dog whistle\” politics.

  40. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on September 7, 2008 at 8:59 am

    One of the outcomes in using language is the lack of clarity. This opacity is encouraged by use of the new electronic communication devices. The internet and text messaging are wonderful additions to the field of communication. It empowers everyone to communicate, because its there and not because there is something meaningful to say.

    This creates a countervailing power, that is the influence of great numbers of people is directed at those, who hold legal authority. I believe that it serves the Lord’s purpose, because it exposes the frailties of our leaders, religious or otherwise. Now, what we do with it is another matter. There must be opposition to all our efforts, if we are to discover, who we are.

    We use language to establish authority, the truth. For example, #34,#35,#36 mention “coded bible-speak” and #36. talks about “religiously-coded language”. As a participant in the interfaith movement I meet monthly with our group representing the faiths in our county. Once a year we visit each others meetings or churches. On one visit to a Mosque I saw a poster on the bulletin board and on it were the words to the golden rule as expressed by different religions, including the Muslims. I called my wife’s attention to it and said I have never seen the golden rule expressed in so many different ways and yet it still contain its meaning. At our meetings I feel like I am a friend, to learn something new and all of us feel, that we are children of God.

    I have attended the few meetings between Mormon and Evangelical scholars that we had in our county. These meetings were very structured and I come away with a feeling of just having attended a boxing match. Of course, I am partial and see their sophistry in denying the validity of Jesus Christ in the book of Mormon. I admit Mormons can not produce the book made out of gold, but what is the book’s value. The gold or Jesus Christ informing us of His plan for the redemption of men and women and children. I have not learned anything new, because its all about, who scored what points aganst the other.

    Its about behavior and what we or others say it is. God gave us this earth and the ability to reason together. It should lift us up, but more often we fail and try again.

    edu

  41. Snow White on September 14, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Wow! I had a busy month and we get a troll in my absense! Cool!
    If you’re going to remark on GC language, you have to mention terms like “supernal” which have meaning to outsiders but get more play with mormons.

  42. Eduard A. Erdtsieck on October 19, 2008 at 8:07 am

    jp beahm and kylie Turley – in reference to your “coded bible speak” and how it is received by the people or multitudes, including agnostics and atheists? This is what Jesus said.

    His disciples asked Him: Why do You speak to them in parables?

    Jesus replied: It is given for you [disciples] to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever has asked, to him it shall be given and he shall have more abundance, but he who has not asked, from him shall be taken away even that he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables, they [the multitude] seeing, see not and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.

    Why is it not given for the multitude to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven? Who is at fault? God!

    Yet, He also said: If you have done it to the least of these your brothers [multitude] you have done it unto Me.

    What makes the disciples so privileged? What is there in the nature of knowledge, that some prefer, the status of not knowing? Not knowing some things and ignorance are not the same concepts. I don’ know ayone, who deliberatly tried to achieve the status of ignorance! Not even the agnostic or atheist.

    edu

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