On the Internet is the Word

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Like all things involving texts of some kind or another, the Internet has become a force in the most basic of language tools, the dictionary. Even Mormon use of language has spawned a number of glossaries, dictionaries, lists of terms and jargon, etc., all in an attempt to either further understanding or poke fun. But none of the attempts at a Mormon lexicon have tried to be comprehensive and serious. So I set up Mormon Terms.

I’d been tossing around the idea in my mind since before last May, when I first posted about Mormon jargon in New Words of Mormon (where else but A Motley Vision would you expect posts about Mormon language?) And last month I finally got the site set up and announced it on Times & Seasons.

Mormon Terms is in its infancy still. At the moment, the heart of the site is a list of 1,300 potential terms that may or may not be ‘Mormon’ in some way. [I’m plugging away at defining terms (I try to do 5 a weekday, so if its left to me, it will take a year to finish), and I’m looking for new terms as well. Even though 1,300 is more than any other list of Mormon terms, I don’t think its a very large percentage of what would be included in a comprehensive list.]

But this issue of whether a term is ‘Mormon’ in some way is probably the thorniest problem the site will face. Mormons frequently use a lot of terms in a religious context, most of which are common to all religions. Words like spirituality, God, Christ, worship, revelation, anoint, etc. are used in a lot of religious contexts, and if the meaning of the word is the same, should it be included?

For example, we’ve defined the word apologetics, mostly because it was on one of the lists of Mormon words I used as a source. But I’m not sure it should be included because I don’t think the definition is any different than what you would find in any dictionary. When Mormons use the word apologetics, do we mean anything different than what non-Mormons mean when they use it?

Like all writing, this probably comes down to a question of audience. Perhaps the right answer to this issue is simply who is the audience (or who are the audiences) for this lexicon and what will that audience (or those audiences) expect?

I don’t think I know the answer to this question. But one of the strengths of using a wiki like Mormon Terms on the Internet is that the audience or audiences can help decide this issue. Because the audience can edit the dictionary, the audience will determine what is, or isn’t a Mormon word.

It will be interesting to see the result.


BTW, I just noticed that there is a Wikipedia page for A Motley Vision, thanks to Theric. Now I feel a little like Navin R. Johnson in the scene from the Steve Martin comedy, The Jerk:

The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!”¦ I’m somebody now!

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11 thoughts on “On the Internet is the Word”

  1. Mormons frequently use a lot of terms in a religious context, most of which are common to all religions. Words like spirituality, God, Christ, worship, revelation, anoint, etc. are used in a lot of religious contexts, and if the meaning of the word is the same, should it be included?

    I’m having this issue in my book. When my characters refer to the Lord or Heavenly Father, they use the word “God,” which is not something we, as a culture, generally do.

    Protestant religions use “God” and Catholics use the word “God” to refer to the deity, but overall, we don’t.

    Why don’t we? I don’t know, but it’s immaterial. I made a conscious decision at the outset to do it this way to make the story more accessible, but then I got used to them saying “God” instead of “the Lord” or “Heavenly Father.”

    I didn’t start rethinking this until this post, because it’s not really…oh, honest, I guess (maybe?) if I have LDS characters referring to HF as “God” when we as a culture simply don’t do that much.

    Our word “God” doesn’t, IMO, differ from any other protestant religion’s word “God.” It’s just that we don’t use it very much and I think perhaps we should find a way to delineate that in your wiki.

    Obviously, I haven’t gotten to the wiki yet to do anything, so I apologize for the drive-by.

  2. In terms of audience, I say go the Urban Dictionary route and list multiple definitions of the terms that reflect multiple perspectives. For example, the audience may not be as simple as LDS vs. non-LDS. Some terms may vary by LDS by region.

  3. Ardis (2), you caught one of the errors on the list. Since I pulled the list together from a lot of sources (including some anti-Mormon lists), I ended up with a lot of definitions that needed to be removed because of the bias in them. I missed the one you caught (I’ve since removed it).

    Unfortunately, the anti-Mormon lists generally included many more relevant terms than the lists put together by active members. Clearly, the anti-Mormons put a lot more effort into their lists for some reason.

    Eventually, the list of potential terms will go away as we manage to get most terms defined.

  4. .

    1. I hurried and wrote that entry before I was published here so there would be no conflict of interest. I wonder if it worked….

    2. I have a friend (a specialist in Middle English) who is writing a Mormonominary. She’s currently taking a break from her PhD program to serve a missionary in Sweden, but her project is similar to yours. It is nowhere near as large in scope, but she traces the history of terms ala the OED with examples and citations and so forth. If you’re interested, email me in December when she comes home and I’ll hook you up with her. I know she’ll be interested in your project and there might be a nice symbiosis to be had.

    3. Being a word guy myself, I’ve found that losing a correct but little-used word like “God” can catch the attention of otherwise passive listeners. Switching (broadening) vocabulary can be a useful tool in communication.

    4. This one cracked me up:

    First Ministry of Jesus Christ:* Jesus having taken a physical body, and come to earth to establish the kingdom of God, was apparently incompetent and lacking in inspiration, for He made numerous mistakes and ultimately failed to impact humanity and complete His Mission – in fact creating such a mess with that Great Abominable Church, it seems like we would have all been better off had Jesus just stayed home and really gotten serious about carpentry. As it turns out, Peter was not the Rock upon He would build his church, but rather Peter was to return like Ben Kenobi bestow upon Luke Skywalker the Jedi Priesthood. In fact it seems Jesus was set up by His Father In Heaven for complete failure, just so that Joseph Smith could come down here and clean up all that mess Jesus had started… Leave it to Jesus, right?

    Thank you, theologist!

  5. William (3), you are right, I think.

    The impact is starker when you start translating terms into other languages. For example, its fairly easy to translate Molly Mormon and Peter Priesthood into Spanish or Portuguese (in Portuguese, I’d use Maria Mormon and Simão Sacerdócio). But the underlying concept doesn’t really exist among Mormons there, as far as I can tell.

    Obviously, allowing for definitions that represent different perspectives provides a place for handling issues like this (after all, each different language is also a different perspective, isn’t it?)

    Of course, the trick is a technical question. How? How do you list these different perspectives? [I’ll have to look at the urban dictionary to see how they handle it.]

    Obviously, Mormon Terms could really use this kind of input and help.

  6. Th (5):

    1. You mean if it worked to avoid conflict of interest? No, but Wikipedia isn’t all that good at avoiding conflict of interest, IMO. As soon as you knew that you would hava post here, there was a conflict of interest.

    But, no matter, I think you managed to pull off a fairly even article, and I’m very glad that the article is there.

    2. Great, I’ll try to remember to email you in december. Please also remember if I forget, OK? [GRIN]

    and 4. I’ve deleted it. Its another like the one that Ardis found. Just re-read what I wrote in comment #4 for an explanation.

  7. .

    Kent:

    1. Of course not, I have a problem with facetiousness. Or so my mother always told me.

    2. You bet!

    4. I don’t think it will be missed. Although trying to imagine what “missionary couple” might have said could well be worse than what was actually there….

  8. .

    Oh, and I have to urge caution in copying the Urban Dictionary too closely. It’s so open to definitions that, really, it’s pretty worthless. I think you being overlord will make the project more healthy than trusting the Internet too completely.

  9. Wondering if through our exploration of Mormon Arts and Letters on this site we have originated any unique word-concepts? Might a short Amvictionary might be created to help the uninitiated enter our little world?

  10. This project is interesting to me, particularly because it shows a lot of us are thinking along the same lines. I got interested in the idea of starting a Mormon lexicon (ala the OED–just the like the friend Th mentioned) when I started taking linguistics classes at BYU and we frequently had projects and discussions that prompted a look into Mormon usages. In fact, I’ve talked to several of my professors about getting a Mormon lexicon started up and maintained by students in the Linguistics and English Language Department at BYU. I’m glad to see by your article, Kent, that I’m not the only one who has been disappointed by the tongue-in-cheek attempts at Mormon dictionaries in the past and is envisioning a more serious approach. I’d be very happy to contribute to the project.

    P.S. I’m also currently trying to put together a bibliography of Mormon linguistics research and projects, which I should probably write a post about sometime soon.

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