Manifesto Against Mormon Lingo (Including the “Bloggernacle” Variety)

I have long thought that Mormon culture lingo sounds stupid and is off-putting and degrading.

Which is wonderfully exemplified by the poem “RULDS?” by Joel Hardy (which I found in a comment at this Splendid Sun post in 2006).

I read the BofM,
I study the D&C,
I peruse the KJV,
back it up with JST.
My son’s at BYU,
at the MTC,
They used to call it LTM
when I was young like he.
I collected for SME,
while in the BSA.
My wife who’s in RS,
teaches YM/YW in MIA.
Today in BYC,
We planned for EFY.
I stayed a little later,
and had a HT PPI.
I listened to some MoTab,
I found at the DI.
then I washed my Gs,
after FHE we had pie.
Now if you’ve understood,
this alphabetic mess.
Chances are quite good,
that you are LDS.

I have heard this little poem read in Sacrament Meeting!

More than once!

I really have no idea what the point was. A celebration of our shared peculiarity, I suppose.

But imagine how it would feel to be a visitor to the Church and hear something like this! I would be confused and scared. Confused about what all that jargon means, and scared that this group is for some reason celebrating their jargoniness. I might have asked one of the missionaries about it, and he might have responded with (and I have heard this before, too), “Oh, you’ll learn it all in time!” (as if learning these terms is a rite of passage for entry into the population of mature Latter-day Saints).

The title of the poem is revealing: “RULDS?” I’m reminded of that obnoxious bumper sticker that reads “RULDS2?” What a lovely message we are spreading here with this item that you can purchase at Deseret Book (or at least you could in the past): “I’m most comfortable around people who are LDS like me because they can understand the obscure culture that I have constructed for myself about what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. And if you’re not LDS2, maybe you can join us for FHE — we’re studying the D&C.”

(While I’m on this note, don’t even get me started about all the rip-off LDS clothing items you can buy, most of which have close imitations of famous brand insignias, such as the t-shirt with the hybrid Nike swoosh / angel Moroni sign. “We’re weird but we’re worldly!”)

We need to do much better, as an LDS community, wherever we live, to minimize the ingroup talk and to be less concerned about maintaining an idiosyncratic LDS community. From that same Splendid Sun post that I referenced above, here is a comment (by “sideline”) that exemplifies this problem well:

I was raised protestant and had visited several different Christian churches before joining the ranks of the lds. During my 10+ years as a member I brought several friends and family members as visitors.

I can tell you from my own experience and theirs that the culture, language, and quirks of other Christian sects are more similar to each other and easier to relate to and understand than to the lds culture, language, and quirks.

This is not to say anything is *wrong* with that of the lds. It is only to say that it is a greater alienating factor. This is intensified by the reality that the lds are a tight knit community. This is not lost on a visitor who comes in and it looks like everyone knows everyone else. This is not the case in most other churches, save tiny ones out in the country. There is very much a difference in visiting an lds chapel versus visiting other churches. While is [sic] can be appealing, it is also alienating and something members would do well to be cognizant of.

We would do much better as a people to ditch the acronyms and vain repetitives — in our testimonies, in our prayers, in our meetings, and in our casual conversations. Parents should encourage their children to do this — trust me, they are capable! Mission presidents should encourage this of their missionaries as well. We might consider speaking as if visitors (or new converts) are at our meetings. From my experience, this endeavor is better for everyone, not just those who might be visitors. We should stop pretending that being a Latter-day Saint means learning a specialized and off-putting vocabularly.

Transition to the “Bloggernacle.”

As a relatively new blogger, I have been disappointed with much of what it is on the “Bloggernacle” — a term that somehow has gained the status of a quasi-official name for “the LDS-blogging community.” I dislike and reject this name. For me, it creates the same kind of in-group off-putting effect that is characteristic of LDS lingo. It sends the message that the LDS-blogging community is an off-putting special society for a certain, elitist type of Latter-day Saint.

Oh, wait. That’s what it is.

As I’ve surfaced, as a newcomer, some of the popular (or not so popular) Mormon blogs, I’ve had similar experiences as sideline’s (above). You learn quickly that there are certain quirky terms that you need to know. It took me weeks to find out what TBM means (true blue Mormon). Or “permablogger” (which apparently is unique to LDS blogs — a person who regularly posts on a certain blog). And I *think* I’m a fairly intelligent person…

Of course, my criticism goes far beyond terms. There is simply, for me, an aura of elitism, arrogance, and in-group-iness that reigns on many LDS blogs. They certainly are not at all inviting to Latter-day Saints who are not currently “in the know.” Please recognize, also, that I realize that there is much that is wonderful also! And I recognize that someone could perhaps accuse this blog of similar things.

I hope, however, that Thinking in a Marrow Bone (begrudgingly acronymed TMB) strives to be different. It is our goal (or mine anyway) to provide an atmosphere where any thoughtful Latter-day Saint — with or without blogging experience — can feel welcome and wanted (as well as those who are not LDS). TMB is not intended to be a place to escape the mainstream of the Church, but to engage it. Certainly, TMB is not perfect in this regard; but we are trying.

I invite other LDS blogs (to try) to do the same.

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13 Responses

  1. Dennis,
    I echo your words. Jargon, especially when used publicly, can not only alienate newcomers and visitors, but it can also take away from the pure, simple message of the restoration of the gospel. Can you imagine visiting an LDS church meeting as an investigator and hearing poems like the one mentioned above and declarations that this is the God’s restored church in the same message? From that perspective, I can see why people think that Mormons are so cultish. The truth, however, is that doctrinally (and practically) there is much room for difference and uniqueness.

    In terms of this problem in the LDS blogging community, I only warn of the dangers of pride and elitism, as humbly as I can. :) We don’t need to look farther than the Book of Mormon:

    Helaman 3:35 Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.

  2. Great post Dennis. I had a couple of immediate reactions:

    1) I think that you touched on it briefly when you mentioned Mormon bumper stickers and apparel, but I see such Mormon-specific jargon as a symptom of a far more insidious disease. That is, the idea that the uniqueness of “Mormon culture” is somehow equivalent to the quality of that culture.

    2) I think the act of blogging is an inherently arrogant and elitist act (it requires an assumption that a) what one has to say is important and b) that other people will feel the same way). That being said I agree with you that there are various posts throughout the “Bloggernacle” that are esoteric for the sake of being esoteric. Nothing turns me off to a blog quicker.

  3. Jargon arises naturally among people who converse regularly on a consistent topic. It is usually not (in my experience) due to an effort to exclude. Of course, the initiated need to make an ongoing effort to bring in outsiders and make them feel included. For example, I remember BCC had a plugin they were using for awhile that would look for Mormon blogging jargon and automatically turn those words into hyperlinks pointing to the definitions for those unfamiliar with the terms (not sure what became of that plugin).

    You seem to be implying in your post that we can do away with jargon, though, and I don’t think that is possible. You don’t like the term Bloggernacle. Fine, but what will you call it instead? Either you will use a series of words to describe it (which becomes utterly tiresome if you are discussing it frequently) or you will give it your own name, which will be just as esoteric to anyone who isn’t familiar with your name as the word bloggernacle is. That is the reason jargon arises. The need arises for specific names for things which are not discussed in normal discourse, so we make names up. It happens in every field of study, every company, and every niche community.

    Are you seriously suggesting we put an end to the use of acronyms?(!) That just seems naive. Just a few paragraphs after saying we should “ditch the acronyms” you begrudgingly start using TMB to refer to this site. Doesn’t that sort of illustrate the problem?

  4. Very well said, Dennis.

    I think that many of us use our scriptural status as “a peculiar people” to justify this kind of thing. First, the translation of that phrase is not what people think. Second, when God tells us to be different, he is talking in terms of standards, not vocabulary. While it is crucial that we maintain a separate identity through our actions and attitudes, we should make every effort to fit in. You rightly point out the problem of ‘investigators’ (itself a jargon term): other people are unlikely to be drawn to (or even understand) our religion if they feel we are intentionally making a point of being different. We often get frustrated with how other Christians misunderstand us; I think it is mostly due to our jargon vocabulary.

    I disagree with Whitney that blogging is inherently arrogant. Nobody is forced to read anyone’s blog, and few bloggers claim that their opinion is more important than anyone else. Rather, bloggers like Dennis have the guts and humility to subject their opinions to the criticism of the world. Rather than being arrogant, I think blogs like Dennis’ provide a great forum for us to discuss our ideas. I appreciate reading the insights of others and contributing my opinion. I gain a lot of insight from even the disagreements we have (of course, Dennis and I have many). The blog provides a forum different from everyday conversations. The blogger thinks of an idea, writes about it, and we all get a chance to think about it ourselves and formulate an opinion.

    http://pendulumpolitics.blogspot.com

  5. Jacob J:

    As they have before, your comments have helped me to temper and refine my thoughts:

    I agree that jargon can occur naturally and not often in an effort to exclude. I can certainly agree that, at some level, it is unavoidable, and at another level it is perhaps desirable. The same can be said for acronyms.

    However, I do think that there is a direct correlation between how open a discourse community is and its prevalence of jargon and acronyms (let me add inside jokes as well). I’ve tried on this blog to have a very open discourse community, and so I’ve made a conscious attempt to minimize in-group talk and cliquish conversation. Other LDS blogs (especially the more prevalent ones) are not doing this very well, in my opinion, whatever their intentions.

    Now, I understand that it might not be the goal of every LDS blog to have an open discourse community. However, I’m not seeing many LDS blogs at all that are both (a) worth reading and (b) friendly to the average ordinary Latter-day Saint without blogging experience. That’s one of the major reasons I started this blog. I’m not trying to create a closed community of intellectuals, I’m trying to open up dialogue and discourse with others, including the “mainstream” Latter-day Saint (which I consider myself to be, by the way). This endeavor, in my opinion, is much more important than so much of the “boundless chatter” (to use the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s term) that occurs on the “Bloggernacle.”

    You are definitely right, though, about how we use jargon and shortcuts when we talk about things over and over again on these blogs. I have done this myself. However, if we really want to have an open community, we will (at least in our posts) provide links with explanations or give brief descriptions. “For those of you aren’t familiar with x… see …” Is this more work? Absolutely! Which is another reason why I started this blog: the need for quality blog posts which come closer to standing alone and aim to be friendly to a first time reader. (Obviously, though, there is a certain level of information that is assumed for the reader of just about any blog; I recognize that.)

    Regarding the name “Bloggernacle,” you do have a point. However, I simply don’t see the need for an official name of the LDS blogging community. For one, it assumes that all LDS-themed blogs belong to the Bloggernacle, and I reject this view. For me, when I see blog posts that use terms like “Bloggernacle” repeatedly (as well as acronyms like TBM — true blue Mormon) repeatedly, it tells me something about the blog. It tells me that the blog is reserved for people “in the know.” Its vitality rests upon in-group community. I suppose I might lump all of THESE blogs as part of the “Bloggernacle.” However, there are other LDS-themed blogs (such as this one) which are not catered to those “in the know.” And therefore the term Bloggernacle doesn’t quite fit. And yet, my blog is linked all over the place as part of the “Bloggernacle.” (I welcome the linking, but dislike the umbrella term.)

    Notice the difference on this blog. There’s no “Blogroll” (another term I didn’t understand at first). Nor is there a column of “Bloggernacle” blogs or links. Instead, there is a list of “Recommended LDS-themed Blogs.” This description fits. I do not see all of these blogs as part of the “Bloggernacle” (nor do some of their owners).

  6. I think another issue that you bring up is that often while public speaking, members of the church with good intentions for humor end up actually not contributing anything of much comedic value. Some people just aren’t funny, but there’s the sentiment that floats around that the best way to begin a talk where your objective is to bring the presence of the Holy Ghost and bear testimony is to… tell a joke.

    The humor thing could probably said of most public speakers in general, but because we go to church meetings we’re disproportionately met with this unfortunate circumstance in a church setting.

    This is a different can of worms, but talks in church could do with a lot less “I’m nervous so bear with me,” “I was a little surprised when the Bishop called me and asked me to speak,” “My wife and I met at…” and “When I prepared my talk this morning I realized that…” sort of statements. Keep in mind, I’m also the guy that once pulled a folded sheet of paper out of my pocket while walking to the podium, and made somewhat of a performance out of straightening it before beginning my remarks, so it’s not like I haven’t guilty.

  7. Rutkowski–

    Yes! I definitely agree. A joke works every now and then, but they are overused way too much. What I hate (usually) is when the joke is concerned with (a) how it was that the person was asked to give the talk, (b) how they don’t really want to give the talk, or (c) how their topic is so broad that they don’t really know what to say.

    Occasionally, a speaker will pull off all three!

  8. Yes Dennis, it is a miracle when the Holy Trinity appears in a sacrament meeting in the form you mentioned.

    Wrong kind of miracle, but a miracle nonetheless.

  9. Dennis,

    You conceded most of the points I wanted to argue about, so maybe we are not in too stark a disagreement. You seem to be annoyed with BCC or T&S or both (if I am reading your innuendo correctly), which I don’t really have a stake in, but it did inspire some thoughts.

    Consider television shows as an analog to blogs. Some tv shows require more knowledge of past episodes than others. Fear factor does not require much ramp up for a new viewer. You flip to it having never seen it before and you see people eating bugs. If you are into that sort of thing you can enjoy it immediately. LOST, on the other hand, is a show that requires a great deal of knowledge about past episodes in order to enjoy it. The point I want to make is that I don’t think one approach can be said to be inherently superior to the other. LOST can provide a certain kind of entertainment that Fear Factor cannot and vice versa.

    I think there is some overlap here with blogs. Some blogs make the “characters” of the blog a bigger part of their value proposition than others. Some blogs encourage a lot of banter and others not as much. Some blogs cater to discussions which anyone can jump into successfully while others create a small community which expects you to read up on previous threads before you pipe in with arguments which have already been discussed previously. To be sure, LOST wants new viewers, and would like nothing more than for you to buy the previous seasons and become a regular viewer, but it doesn’t explain every reference to a past episode as it goes. It simply requires a different commitment and investment from its viewers than other shows. Of course, just as with tv shows, you will like some blogs and not others, but I’m am not sure one blog approach is objectively worse or more evil than another.

  10. Jacob:

    Good points.

    I think that your analogy to TV shows is a good one, although I have a hard time thinking of a TV program that does not tell a continuing story that someone couldn’t dive in immediately (though certainly they would better understand certain things if they have been following it for a while). A popular game show, for example, would probably not be so foreign that I would have to watch an entire season before I can understand what is going on. So, for me the key issue, with TV programs, is not simply whether there is “a lot of banter” (though this is part of it) but whether there is a sequential story (either fictional or reality) that is being told (though, yes, there are some programs where a story is being told but which it is quite easy to jump right in, such as American Idol).

    But something different is going on with blogs, I think, because, for the most part (at least on LDS-themed blogs) blog posts are not intended to be different chapters in a single narrative. This is especially the case on large blogs with multiple contributors.

    I suppose, then, that my criticism with many LDS-themed blogs (especially large ones) is that they are perhaps unaware of (or underestimate) their closed-group status and how it not only keeps people out, but also stifles the conversation for those who are within. This is often the way it is with in-groups and cliques (as well as academics). Now, if this is what a blog wants, then that’s fine — and you’re right, I don’t think I can call that “worse or more evil” than the other. However, I think that many LDS bloggers do NOT want this, though I could be wrong. If I am wrong, I would hope that more would. For me, the major space that is not being filled is an intelligent forum for Latter-day Saints with articles that can stand alone and with commenters that do not assume everyone is “in the know.” This takes more work (which, as I’ve said, is one reason why other blogs do not do this well). But if we don’t try to have more of these such forums (right now I would argue there are very few), then the LDS blogging community simply becomes an in-group community for people to entertain their intellectual fetishes (and perhaps an odd form of group therapy?). If this is the case, then “Bloggernacle” is probably a fitting description.

  11. Good points. You made me think of another aspect of this from my perspective. Although people say that there are a lot of lurkers (i.e. people who read but do not comment on blogs (i.e. websites like this one you are reading)), I have a hard time believing it. When I write, I am not generally thinking of more than a handful of people as my audience. In some ways I do this purposefully because I am put off by the self-importance some people exhibit when talking about blogging. I don’t think I’m changing the world and I don’t think most people care what I have to say. I write to interact with the few people who comment on . Lurkers, if they exist, can read if they want, but I don’t generally care. If I start to care, I instinctively remind myself not to take myself so seriously. This probably leads me to behave in some of the ways you are decrying in this post.

    By the way, in an earlier comment you wrote that:

    I simply don’t see the need for an official name of the LDS blogging community. For one, it assumes that all LDS-themed blogs belong to the Bloggernacle, and I reject this view.

    I don’t think it assumes that at all. The definition of “Bloggernacle” is hotly debated in some quarters, but if you have never seen it, you might be interested in DMIDave’s post on that topic.

  12. I’ve been thinking about this discussion for a while, ever since I saw it here, but maybe it might be helpful to think of it this way: there are three missions of the church, and no one of them is paramount to the other. Sometimes you can do two things at once, like proselyting through family history work, but if that doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean its bad. One mission is still pretty great. (I hope that we all consider an LDS online community part of ‘perfecting the saints.’ )

    But it might also help to add that the fulfillment of one mission might be significantly weakened by dabbling in another simultaneously (you, as a rule aren’t allowed to do extensive amounts of family history or temple work while you are a proselyting missionary, for instance). The same might hold true here: if this short-hand is pure laziness, then let’s be better; but if our sense of community (and ability to perfect the saints) is dampened by our PC tip-toeing, then let’s focus on one goal at a time.

    I know that a lot of writing I do would simply be impossible to write without exclusionary jargon. But I have a specific audience, and they deserve a discussion too (there’s a reason that third hour has us separate).

    However, I did get an odd comment a few months back from someone who declared that they weren’t a ‘Mormon,’ but they thought the discussion on morality and film was important and they just said how glad they were they found it. The funny thing is that I had never used the word “Mormon” anywhere on the site, using “LDS” instead. He still got everything despite the jargon.

  13. I appreciate this blog for the fact that it opened my eyes to what non-members feel when things like this pop-up. It makes perfect sense seeing how I have been a member all my life and there are more than enough in that poem that I don’t know. Thanks for this.

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