Whether you’ve been an investigator or are just a Mormon who doesn’t live in a complete Mormon bubble, you’ve doubtless discovered that some words we use are used differently by others.  There are many different reasons for this.  Sometimes we simply are using words, particularly religious words, that are commonly used in other faiths, but when we use them, they have a unique Mormon cultural context.  For example, sacrament to us conjures one image, but to a Catholic another.  Sometimes we use words that have no particularly religious context, that are common in everyday speech, but mean something specific to us.  The word “mutual” means “reciprocal” according to the dictionary, but to us it means a weeknight activity for youth.  These words mostly fit into the jargon category:  special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

If you’ve ever started a new job, you have heard jargon.  If you’ve been at that company for a while, you now use that jargon seamlessly.  If you change companies, you will discover that those words no longer carry the same meaning.

Some words are entirely unique to Mormonism, originating somewhere in the Book of Mormon or in Mormon history; these are words and phrases that are not commonly used anywhere outside the church (e.g. telestial or deseret).  Others are real words that have simply fallen out of common use outside of Mormonism (supernal, terrestrial or provident).  Sometimes it’s a phrase rather than a word that is uniquely Mormon.  An example of this is the phrase “ox in the mire.”  This is an apocryphal phrasing unique to Mormonism.  If you don’t believe me, go ahead and Google it.  I’ll wait.  Every single reference is an LDS one.  The actual scripture says:  “Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the a sabbath day?”  In order to be able to claim I’m honest in all my dealings, I am always careful to tell others that my “ass is in a pit” if I’m ever called out for buying Diet Cokes on the Sabbath.

A rhetorical device commonly used in church talks is to change the definition of an existing word to mean something else within the Mormon context.  We like to add a twist by pitting “the world’s definition” against “the Lord’s definition,” both of which are usually invented by the speaker.  This is a form of straw man argument as the definitions used on both sides are interpretive rather than actual definitions (at least I am unaware of a single so-called “World” Dictionary that consistently matches the definitions I’ve heard used). Speaking of which, another rhetorical device is to place the word “so-called” in front of a noun to jeer at the preposterous idea that is presented.

In high school, I read Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical lexicon giving truthful yet amusing definitions of words in common use.  For example:

Conservative (n.) A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Lawyer (n.) One skilled in circumvention of the law.
In that vein, I am told that Orson Scott Card wrote his own Mormon version called Saintspeak.  While I haven’t read it, I have been working on a list of Mormon definitions of my own.  Additionally, a recent online discussion yielded several others, and prompted some new ones.  I’ve hand-picked a few of the best ones from that on-line discussion and added many of my own.

Addiction (n.) the state of having done something forbidden once

Almost engaged (adj.) the state of a relationship at BYU lasting longer than three weeks

Apostate (adj.) from any source other than Deseret Book or lds.org, (n.) dangerous person; liar; often found in the lobby of the ward building during meetings or making insightful and unwelcome comments in Gospel Doctrine

Appearance of evil (n.)  drinking root beer from a brown bottle or hot chocolate from a Starbucks cup

Appropriate (adj.) in compliance with my standards

Anti (adj.) any new information that scares me; (n.) person who votes Democrat

Bear testimony (v.) to get up at the pulpit and talk about random things, often while blubbering and apologizing

Bosom (n.) a place that burns when you feel the Spirit or eat jalapenos after 9pm

Break the sabbath (v.) do something on a Sunday that I wouldn’t do

Bridle your passions (v.) have none

Calling (n.) assignment given by inspiration where inspiration is defined as “willing member meets vacant assignment”

Contention (n.) having an opinion

Court of love (n.) hammer time

Curelom (n.) Mr. Snuffaluffagus

Cultural hall (n.) a basketball court used for cattle-like potluck feedings and shoestring-budget wedding receptions; neither a hall nor particularly cultural

Deacon tie (n.) when someone’s tie sticks up over their collar

Deseret (n.) I’m pretty sure we made this word up by adding an “e” to desert

Diet Coke (n.) gateway drug

Disappointed (adj.) word used when a family member thinks you’re going to hell

Doubt (v.) to desire to sin; conversely, parlaying a vague sense of being offended or bored into a one-way ticket to Hell

Elder (n.) someone younger and less mature than most adults

Enrichment (n.) an evening of women making dust-collecting trendy crafts destined to die in the back of a closet unmourned 

Equal (adj.) not equal, but valuable as an unequal participant sort of like an employee is

Eternal companion (n.) the person to whom you are sealed for time and all eternity; in mission parlance, any companion you spend more than 100 days partnered with

Even (adj.) a needless affectation used to sound more spiritual while emphasizing an appositive.  Could be used interchangeably with “lo” or “verily.”  E.g. in prayer:  “We’re grateful for our prophet, even Thomas S. Monson.”  I recommend using this one more liberally:  “I would like a sandwich, even peanut butter and jelly.  Verily, on the wheat bread.  Lo, do we have any more Fritos?”

Fast Sunday (n.) slowest Sunday ever

Fast Sunday breath (n.) the most wretched, malodorous stench known to exist; like the crypt-keeper’s toothbrush soaked in dysentery then wrapped in kimchi

Fellowship (v.) befriending others with the sole purpose of changing their beliefs to accord with your own

Feminist (n.) unattractive angry woman who hates motherhood and men, is an enemy of the church, and wishes she had a penis

Funeral potatoes (n.) potatoes laden with so much fat they are likely to cause a funeral

Free agency (n.) the right to choose to do whatever you want so long as the majority of church members agree with it

Garments (n.) sacred clothing that makes Mormons instantly recognizable to each other at Disney theme parks; without these, Mormons would be largely indistinguishable from Catholics and really committed Protestants

Gender (n.) one’s biological sex and the stereotypes associated therewith

General Conference (n.) an event twice a year, often hailed as vacation from church, but in reality, exchanging 3 hours of church meetings for 8-10 hours

General Priesthood Broadcast (n.) meeting for males ages 12 and up followed by root beer floats.  Topics include the evils of porn, why men are perverts, and how to avoid porn.

General Relief Society Broadcast (n.) meeting for women, preceded by a light meal.  Topics include why women are special, why being a mother is the only important thing a woman should ever contemplate, and other fluffy kittens of doctrine.

Girls camp (n.) same as scout camp minus the adventure and budget plus three extra layers of clothing

Grateful (adj.) jealous, as in “I’m grateful that I’m here at church, not off doing [fun things] like [bad people].”  Alternatively, indifferent but vaguely nostalgic about farming, as in “We’re grateful for the moisture we’ve received.”

Guardians of virtue (n.) anyone with a still-intact hymen; however, the virtue they are guarding is generally understood to be someone else’s

Hanging out (v.)  an activity between the sexes that leads to being friends with benefits as opposed to the Lord’s way, neither being friends nor having benefits

“Harm or accident” (n.) things that befall us if we don’t remember to use the right phrasing in our prayers, not to be confused with vain repetitions

Haystacks (n.) oops, I forgot to shop, so let’s throw whatever random food we can find onto one plate and pretend it was intentional

High council (n.) guy who is mystified about being called to speak in other wards despite a personal and often self-fulfilling conviction that he has nothing of interest to say

High priests group (n.) the place where men are paroled when they become too old, infirm or important at work to help people move

Historic (adj.) forgettable

Hot drinks (n.) coffee and tea, iced coffee, iced tea, coffee ice cream; does NOT include hot cocoa

Humanist (n.) hedonistic moral relativist

Ideal (adj.) white and upper middle class, not having single or divorced parents

Intellectual (n.) a prideful person who stubbornly admits to lacking knowledge of the unknowable

“I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.”  A phrase meaning “I knew all along I was going to do this, and now that I’m up here I’m embarrassed because my nose is running.”

Inactive (adj.)  A person who doesn’t go to church and adeptly dodges phone calls and in person visits

Investigator (n.) every person a missionary has ever talked to

“I understand what you are saying but I really think that kind of thinking can be dangerous”  Phrase meaning, “I don’t at all understand what you are saying, and I am pretty sure you are going to Hell.”

Know (v.) believe or hope

“LDS women are amazing!” A phrase used to distract females whenever they try to leave the kitchen

Lengthen your stride.  A guilt inducing phrase used whenever someone tries to define boundaries on their involvement at church.

Living prophets (n.) God’s chosen direct reports that he hasn’t yet killed, but like an Agatha Christie novel, you can see the writing on the wall

Magnify your calling (v.) for women:  bring a lace doily, centerpiece and fancy attractive snacks and/or hand-made magnets when you teach; for men:  show up when it’s your week to teach

Meekness (n.) conflict avoidance

Miracle (n.) everyday common experience where something went at least half right; in reference to mission age change for women: minor policy change, now stop asking

Mission field (n.) to people from Utah, any place outside of Utah

Moisture (n.) a thing we are grateful for, even if we live in a tropical rainforest, see also vain repetitions

MRS degree (n.) Mormon equivalent of a dowry or bride-price; roughly the same as two semesters’ tuition at BYU

Modest (n.) 1. for females: wearing clothing with a minimum of cap sleeves and 15 inch inseams; 2. for males:  wearing clothing

Motherhood (n.) a spiritual gift possessed by all females, regardless of whether or not they have given birth or adopted children

Natural man (n.) craven perverts made in the image of God

“Nourish and strengthen our bodies” A phrase invoking the miraculous transubstantiation of sugary donuts and red punch into a nutritious substance.

Obedient (adj.) unquestioning; entitled to specific blessings, including curtailing the free agency of investigators in the case of missionaries

Participate (v.) for women:  to make insightful comments during the lesson; for men: to stay awake during the lesson

Peculiar (adj.) not worldly; Scientologist-like to non-Mormons

Personal Revelation (n.) a gift whereby I may receive confirmation that your opinions are correct, or absent this, I am bound to obey anyway; similar to a Magic 8 ball, but only with Yes answers

Petting (n.) something the youth are told not to do, the leaders are too embarrassed to explain, and people outside the church don’t call by that name.

Plural marriage (n.) marriage between one woman and one man that is simultaneous to marriage between that same man and as many other women as he can convince

Politically correct (adj.) lacking the virtue of intolerance

Ponder (v.) think about it until you conform to the party line

Pornography (n.) whatever object a sexually aroused person happens to see; hence the phrase “I know it when I see it.”  Bazinga!

“Pray and study” (v.)  A cure-all solution for doubts

Preside (v.) 1. for fathers, assign prayers; 2. for ward leaders, sleep on the stand in front of the congregation while holding the highest church title among all present

President (n.) the leader of an organization in the church; an honorific title used for presidents, unless they are women

Priesthood (n.) a mysterious power which somehow totes the bread and water around to the pews of its own accord, and must be thanked for it; it also stacks chairs and opens the overflow curtain; NOT synonymous with male church members

Primary voice (n.) a melodic yet quiet way of speaking that doesn’t cause hearing aid interference and is high pitched enough to be inaudible to men over the age of 65; the tone used by females who wish to advance in the church

Procreative power (n.) sex, whether procreation is involved or not

Prompting (n.) trump card of justification to do whatever I think best

Provident (adj.) having a garden, a bunker full of canned food, and 100 pounds of wheat in drums under your bed; not to be confused with cold war paranoia

Release (v.) to be let go from a calling; it’s not you, it’s us

Relief Society (n.) the world’s oldest organization of women, under the supervision and budgetary oversight of men

Religious freedom (n.) the right to discriminate against others on the basis of your beliefs

Reverent (adj.) silent; alternative meaning when applied to hymns:  played at half tempo

Rest hymn (n.) a hymn that interrupts your rest

Righteous (adj.) passive-aggressively judgmental

RM (n.) Mormon man just entering the marriage market

Satan’s plan (n.) a devious strategy proposed by the evil one to force obedience and guarantee that all will be saved, in complete contrast to today’s church culture which does the same without such guarantees

Scones (n.) shapeless donut fried in lard, not to be confused with the delightful English confection served with clotted cream and jam

Scout camp (n.) supervised pyromania and jackass-style stunts in the wild

Scouts (n.)  boys playing basketball in the gym, then getting awards

Self-abuse (n.) self-love

Seminary (n.) a pathway to spiritual enlightenment through sleep deprivation and cheesy object lessons

Sister missionary (n.) pre-2012, future lesbian and/or mustachio’d sweet spirit; post-2012, female church member who has passed the ripe old age of 19 without getting married

So-called (adj.) I sneer at whatever word follows this adjective

Softened heart (n.) the quality possessed by someone who has finally succumbed to my haranguing and now agrees with me

Soul kiss (n.) romantic kiss, not to be confused with Soul Train or the Dementor’s Kiss

Sparingly (adv.) all you can eat spare ribs

Special (adj.) mundane

Special number (n.) amateur musical performance designed to wake up the slumbering congregation; followed by profuse thanks from every subsequent speaker

Study (v.) read only approved materials, demonstrate no intellectual curiosity

Sunday best (n.) business dress for men; skirts of whatever type for women, even if worn with a tee shirt

Supernal (adj.) a word used in a talk when one has already exhausted the words heavenly and celestial or in order to create alliteration.

Super Saturday (n.) an event for women including enrichment crafts at 4x the cost and 3x the time investment

Sweetheart (n.) if said by someone over age 80, wife; if under age 80, a candy exchanged on Valentine’s Day

Sweet spirit (n.) unmarriageable spinster; conversely, what is brought into the meeting by the performance of special musical numbers

Talk (n.) sermon

Teach (v.) read verbatim from the manual

Telestial (adj.) glory reserved for the people who spent all their fun on earth

Temple divorce (n.) if you are a woman, something you have to convince your indifferent or possibly hostile ex to give you so you can remarry in the temple; if you are a man, something totally unnecessary because you can be sealed to an unlimited number of wives

Temple marriage (n.) something all Mormon girls are taught to dream of from birth

Tender mercy (n.) small thing that went right when you were in a bad mood

Terrestrial (adj.) glory reserved for nice protestants whose eternal reward will be neutered puttering around, doing gardening; similar to Del Boca Vista (where Jerry Seinfeld’s parents went to retire)

The world’s definition (n.) the actual definition

“The thinking is done”  A phrase usually meaning it never began.

Tithing settlement (n.) 20 minutes of your life you will never get back.  It could be worse.  The bishop has to sit through all of them.

Traditional (adj.) a set of ideals imagined in the 1950 that never really existed

Uchtdorf (n.) silver-haired male apostle that has every female member twitterpated, and most of the men too

Ungrateful (adj.) what I would be if I didn’t get up and cry in front of you all today; in other words, relieved

Unity (n.) end of discussion

Unnatural (adj.) things I don’t want to think about

Unrighteous dominion (n.) abuse of power

Vain repetitions (n.) prayers written down beforehand and used in other, wrong-headed churches, unlike our spontaneous prayers that still somehow sound nearly identical

Virtue (n.) 1. the ability to ignore or neutralize all sexual impulses; 2. hymen

Ward council (n.) a weekly hour-long meeting of ward leaders consisting of a late start (7 minutes), opening and closing prayers (10 minutes), a song (10 minutes), devotional thought (15 minutes), reviewing minutes from the last meeting (15 minutes), and gossiping about absent ward members in a spirit of love and service (3 minutes).

Water (n.) a substance ruled by Satan on Sundays, except when it’s in sacrament cups

“We’d like to end with a message.” Phrase signaling the end of the normal conversation portion of the evening during a visit from home or visiting teachers

“We missed you at church today!” A phrase meaning “Where the hell were you?! Are you inactive?”

World (n.) a dangerous place existing outside of Utah, everything bad/not Mormon

Worthiness interview (n.) creepy fishing expedition, in some cases creeping out even the apologetic interviewer

Worthy (adj.) not visibly disobeying any commandments

Zion (n.) to people from Utah this refers to Utah, to people from elsewhere, this is a national park overrun by skinheads


What definitions would you add?  What words would you like to be defined in future installments?