The scope and category of Mormon Terms

Long time readers here on Motley Vision may remember that I’ve had an ongoing project (you might say neglected project….) to create a list of terms that are Mormon in some way and to define those terms — essentially creating a Mormon dictionary. While I don’t put as much effort into it as I should, I am still committed to it.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this effort is the decision of when a word is Mormon, and in what sense. There are several well-known taxonomies for classifying words (formality–formal, informal, jargon, slang, etc.; part of speech; usage frequency–archaic, rare, etc.; subject area; etc.), but I believe that there may be additional taxonomies that apply when we talk about Mormon words.

I’m not suggesting that the other taxonomies don’t apply — they clearly do. I am suggesting that there are others that perhaps should appear in a Mormon dictionary, or at least may help in identifying Mormon terms.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Perhaps the bulk of the words used in Mormonism originate in 19th century religious English, but the meanings have changed to fit Mormon needs. Words like sacrament, temple and missionary are not unique to Mormonism, but have meanings that are at least slightly different from their use in other religions and contexts. But other words, like the word mormon itself or the word bandlo,[1. a neck scarf used in the primary organization from the 1920s to the 1950s. See A Bundle of Bandlos at Keepapitchinin.] are mormon neologisms — they didn’t exist before 1820 or so. So one taxonomy that might apply is whether or not the term has been loaned or adopted from another context or not.

Another potential taxonomy might be found in whether or not the word or term, or even the meaning used in Mormonism has escaped Mormonism and become widespread outside of  our context. That has certainly happened with mormon, which is in widespread use and appears in most dictionaries. Mormon has also gained additional meanings after it entered wider use, especially as a synonym for bigamist. There are, for perhaps obvious reasons, very few of these terms that have escaped Mormonism and become widely used outside the Mormon context. In any case, this gives another potential taxonomy — whether the term and meaning is only used among Mormons or whether it has meaning to some degree outside of Mormonism.

A third potential taxonomy might try to classify different Mormon uses — it might be called sort of a faithful usage scale. Some terms, like Adam-God Doctrine, for example, are almost always used by critics of the LDS Church, while other terms or usages, such as saying The Prophet, tend to be used by the faithful more than critics. Given that to an outsider the difference may not be apparent, indicating when a word is more often used by insiders vs. outsiders could be useful.

What do you all think? Are these taxonomies useful? Should they be included in a dictionary? Are there other taxonomies that I’ve left out?

5 thoughts on “The scope and category of Mormon Terms”

  1. I would finder this utterly useful. Sometimes we are blind to our own peculiaritiies, linguistically & otherwise, and if an aim of LDS artists is to take our LDS themes, characters & mythologies to a broader audience, then we need to have a clear grasp of what those are. Language/dialect is an important facet of this.

    I have a random question for you, Kent…is the name Jared an LDSism? Someone once told me it was, but it seems more common. Did it originate in the BOM?

  2. Sarah, I just searched for records of births with the first name Jared occurring before 1830 and came up with over 600,000 records.

    Does that answer your question?

  3. In the Old Testament, Jared was one of the patriarchs, the father of Enoch, and was used as a name in centuries when the Bible was a primary source for child names. Modernly, a boy named Jared is probably of LDS parentage.

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