“Why are you capitalizing words in your texts?” “Did you really end that text with a period?” “Mom, no. You text like a Karen. It’s embarrassing. Just no.” “That meme is literally 18 months old. It’s cringe.” In case I had any illusion about my ongoing youthful
exuberance energy, I’m clearly not passing. Every once in a while I’ll get it right, and I can see that while they are still rolling their eyes at me, my adult kids are slightly proud that their mom isn’t literally the worst which basically means above average for my age cohort.
I was recently listening to an interview with linguist, Gretchen McCulloch (yes, I know that sounds deadly dull to many of you, but as a former English major, that stuff is mother’s milk to me). She was talking about how memes and online communications have radically altered how people communicate and connect, and that one thing that’s going away is slavish devotion to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Not only was I an English major and unrepentant Grammar Nazi, but I also studied French for six years. French is even worse than English for being insular and inflexible. As my high school French teacher boasted, the Academie Francaise only permits 200 new words to be admitted to the language per year. The reality is, though, that this kind of rigid purity in language may feel to its practitioners like a point of national heritage and pride, but it’s also one of the reasons that French didn’t remain the international language of business that it was touted as during my high school years. Its relevance has diminished in my lifetime, not grown. English, on the other hand, particularly American English which likes to be on the cutting edge of culture through social media, journalism, music and film, has proven to be a flexible and vibrant language, adding and creating new words all the time.
Side note: the interviewers briefly discussed that “adjectives don’t exist,” which totally blew my mind. My focus was on creative writing, not journalism, and I can tell you that adjectives were our bread and butter. I have an impressive arsenal of adjectives I can whip out at a moment’s notice. However, they are anathema in journalism, and now I can’t unsee it. News articles with adjectives are basically garbage, the fodder of emotionally manipulative fake news junkets and grotesque hacks like Matt Walsh. Those without adjectives are at least purporting to be fact-based.
McCulloch pointed out that punctuation was created to improve a reader’s comprehension by indicating pauses and stops (every English major knows this, and probably most average Joes as well), but over time, our rules became calcified and less flexible. The introduction of new media such as texting, Twitter, and other social media platforms alters how punctuation works and how a message “feels” when various types of punctuation are employed. I confess that I’m really not able to keep up with all the evolving social media rules of communication because I’m not 18, despite the ongoing lecture series I receive from my offspring. I can grasp the concept of the changes, but not all the nuances. For the sake of this OP, though, I can Dunning-Kreuger my way through it.
One of the take-aways from this interview that was most salient was the reminder that communication is about two people understanding one another, both in the content and the emotion being conveyed. Communication is not served by an appeal to rules. Strict grammarians like I was trained to be interrupt that connection by bringing in a third party that is unrelated to either the emotion or the content, by policing the rules of the communication itself. Apparently my kids don’t even know who Strunk & White are, and nobody cares who they are. In fairness, I think I quit caring who they are a few decades ago.
So let’s take a look at me being a jerk about the rules. I saw this Tweet in my feed. It irked me on two levels: 1) I’m not into this content, and 2) that second sentence has tense disagreement!
Let’s be honest, that’s not the kind of Tweet that’s going to go viral (my response), and I’m OK with that because I got my “reward” which was the smugness of making an arcane grammatical reference that literally nobody cares about but that in my mind makes me feel smarter than the people I already thought were dumb based on the content they were liking and sharing. It’s like I beat them twice. Them not using correct grammar justified my disdain for their political views.
McCulloch, in her interview, called this type of policing behavior inserting a third entity into communication to disrupt it and stop the communication process. I mean, yeah, that’s totally fair. This example wasn’t a two-way sharing of ideas. It was me knowing more about rules and performing my superior / eccentric knowledge of grammar as a means to discredit the original post (while also being fully aware that this area of expertise is largely unimportant and a rejection of the actual sharing of ideas we call communication).
If you’ve made it this far, you’re a champ. This point she made, while an astute call-out for self-important grammarian nerds like me (and clearly herself), was an even more valuable sociological observation about rule-policing behavior and its impact to human communication and relationships. Like the rigid grammarian, the rigid rule-follower isn’t interested in connecting with other people. Such a person seeks to demonstrate superior rule-following and/or performative fealty to the rules or to an authoritative source. And if that’s not familiar to you, you haven’t been paying attention in Mormon culture. It’s the air we breathe.
Like the grammarian, the rulist (I’m making up a new term here, but since this is in English, I can do what I like) wants to know all the rules, where they come from (in case called upon to defend their stance), and evaluate the behaviors of others in the community against that third-party authoritative standard. Conceptually, thinking about this reminded me of a Utah house listing I once saw that included a picture of the First Presidency hanging over the marriage bed. McCulloch’s point was that any time we insert that third party “standard” into a conversation, the communication stops being about whatever the content was, whatever human connection was forming, and immediately becomes about the arbitration of standards with one person pointing to the standard, bolstering their interpretation of the standard with an appeal to authority, and sometimes the other person defending their own misuse or use of the standard with a contradicting appeal to authority. Both people in this scenario can remain firmly convinced that they are right because the other person “doesn’t get it.”
Once you begin to see these types of interruptions to communication, like adjectives in journalism, you can’t unsee them. There are real friendships and relationships at Church, but there are also many, many superficial relationships that fall back on rule arbitration instead of connecting as people. I suspect this is exacerbated by the fact that ward members run the ward as unpaid volunteers, so evaluating contribution and trustworthiness are ongoing needs to eliminate the drag of free-loaders and minimize the strain on top contributors. However, there’s something beautiful to the idea that trust should be based on that connection between people rather than on reasonable-sounding rules set by a third party and used as a heuristic without actually giving you any valuable information about a person.
Which brings me to another podcast, Hidden Brain. In an older episode, Creating God, they discussed that religion functioned as an in-group that could be trusted when humans didn’t have other things that indicated trustworthiness such as shared nationality, good credit scores, and dental hygiene. It was an interesting point. We have a lot more ways to determine whether another person is essentially “trustworthy” now than we did a few hundred years ago, and more ways to hold them accountable for basic pro-social behavior. Consider the Kirtland Bank scandal in Mormon history. That was pretty recent in the history of human civilization, and people did not have a good way to determine whether the scheme was trustworthy or not. Many relied on trusting fellow Mormons as part of their in-group, but they would have done better to look at a credit score (if such a thing had existed then). Likewise when the nefarious John C. Bennett infiltrated Nauvoo, seducing women for “spiritual wifery” and claiming he was authorized to do so by Joseph Smith. He was able to prey on the in-group bias of the community. Religion alone (or any other group membership) is only going to tell you so much about a person. Observable rule-following is similarly limited.
I remember growing up in the Church that there were many members who weren’t strictly observant of various Mormon norms. They didn’t follow all the written rules, let alone the unwritten rules, but they were part of the community, even an integral, trusted part of the ward framework. It feels as though that is no longer the case since the requirement of having a current temple recommend to hold a calling was instituted around the mid-90s. Maybe we’ve lost something along the way.
It’s easier to perform adherence to rules than it is to truly connect and understand other people, to know them well enough to know their character and their heart. Maybe it’s worth setting aside our pride in rule-following to get to know these less adherent folks well enough to find the best way for them to fit into our Mormon culture again.
- Have you observed this rule-following heuristic that substitutes for relationships?
- Is it possible to integrate those who are less observant into our congregations or are they inherently untrustworthy? Will bringing them in lead to rampant questioning of the rules and resentment of sacrifices required by the rules?
- Have the rules replaced relationships in your ward or are there still real connections that lead to trust and respect based on communication and empathy?
- Are rulists like that inherently, or does Mormon or ward culture create rulists?
 Although it’s honestly more flexible than it boasts. French speakers still add their own words and adopt them from other languages, but they just don’t officially add them to the language. Basically, average French people are saying to the Academie Francaise, “OK, Boomer.”
 I suspect this was really just some combination of my French teacher’s home pride and a throwback to French Colonialism, particularly in Asia and Africa, not that it was ever really going to happen. China’s got a billion people, France. Sorry, but it wasn’t even a close contest. However, my high school was not offering refunds on those wasted years studying an increasingly irrelevant language. Quelle surprise.
 YIKES. Also, I really hate the term “marriage bed” which frankly sounds disgusting, but “master” bedroom has fallen out of favor and “primary” bedroom still doesn’t sound right either. I also fail to see how “owner’s” bedroom is not equally as bad as “master” bedroom. Isn’t language fun?
 Or just shrugging and walking away while muttering, “OK, boomer,” because as I mentioned NOBODY CARES.
**Grammarian in me feels the need to point out that the use of “fail” instead of “failure” in the title is further evidence of the flexibility of English. But secretly I know it should be “failure.”
As in: “Mormon, no, we don’t use that word anymore. You have to say, ‘member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.'”
Or: “No, we don’t say ‘free agency’ anymore, like you get a free lunch or something. It’s ‘moral agency.’ There are consequences, deep and painful and eternal consequences.”
Apocryphally, Winston Churchill once submitted a piece for proofreading and someone tried to correct a dangling participle, to which he retorted, “This is the type of errant pedantry up with which I shall not put.” We could use some more of that attitude.
I was a real stickler for the rules at church until I wasn’t. I frequently noticed deviations from what I thought the handbook said. I grew out of that a little bit before landing where I’m at now.
But one thing about all those rules and guidelines is that they enable the church to function consistently so that when people travel to different countries they can still fit in to the ward and contribute. It has the trade off of making the church less adaptable to different cultures. I have wondered if some recent changes are intended to relax these rules. Changes like the Come as Follow Me program, or disengaging from the Boy Scouts. (Intentional sentence fragment there. Haha)
“Them not using correct grammar justified my disdain for their political views.”
Well, I was thinking it should be “Their not using correct grammar…” 🙂
But then, being a merely amateur grammar nerd, I also read Merriam-Webster (sorry, no Strunk & White for me), and found “Some 18th-century grammarians thought the possessive was absolutely wrong, while others (including Noah Webster) thought the possessive was absolutely right. Noah et al. have come out on top in the 21st century; the advice you’re likely to come across these days favors the possessive…” AND
“… if you’re a native speaker of English, it means that you should use whichever construction sounds right to you. In situations in which either sounds fine, you may want to choose the possessive since that’s the one currently favored by the grammarian types. If you’re not a native speaker you should know that the possessive is favored but that when you want to put emphasis on the “who” instead of what the “who” is doing you may in fact want the non-possessive. And if you made it all the way through this article, you should know that we think you’re one of the coolest cats around.”
And yet, I’m not sure Angela meant to put the emphasis on the “who” rather than what “who” was not doing, so I guess maybe the flexibility of English did not facilitate that level of communication after all. 🙂
BTW, I actually am a Boomer.
“…the requirement of having a current temple recommend to hold a calling was instituted around the mid-90s.” Oh? Any such rule doesn’t seem to have been followed in my ward. Is it written somewhere? But my ward has a mix of people who seem to use rules to replace relationships and people who do not.
While rulists sometimes seem to have an inordinate influence in creating Mormon culture (especially if they are GAs — two earrings per ear, anyone?), I suspect the Mormon culture of deference to authority also tends to train people to be rulists — until they rebel. I some areas, e.g the choice of music and use of musical instruments in church meetings, I’ve seen rulists at levels from no authority through apostle attempt to enforce the rules stuck in their heads which were no longer the rules of the Handbook. Unfortunately for them, that kind of thinking seriously gets in the way of their being able to experience music and the spirit for what it is or to even be aware of how others experience it. So, yeah, rulists can have a deleterious effect on community, at least (but not only) where they’re wrong about what the rules are. On the other hand, some, however vague, definition of social rules seems to be inherent in the idea of “community.”
The way we use language in organizations says a lot about who we are and what we value. There are certain groups that demand certain behavior. This behavior includes conformity to standards and yes, to the language that is used. I am certain that there are individuals who have maintained a distance from me because of some of the words I have used in Sunday School or Priesthood – the questions I have asked, etc. (note: I’ve never openly attacked a Church leader past or present). I violated an unwritten code of conduct.
Conservatives like me like to criticize the liberal / woke speech codes found within American universities. You know, political correctness. But I also recognize that as a member of the Church, I also participate in an organization which operates with its own version of political correctness and speech codes. We all know there are certain things you just don’t say or ask even if it’s on everyone’s mind. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we (LDS) care a great deal about the way the English language is used and applied in the context of Church history and doctrine and leadership. We do not have an open environment, “The Saints” and Joseph Smith Papers and Gospel Topic Essays notwithstanding.
Speaking of speech codes, there are certain things we always feel obligated to say. At a Church function in which cookies are served we’ll pray that these refreshments “strengthen and nourish” our bodies. and after it snow this week we can look forward to the opening prayer in which I’m 100% certain we will hear the language “we are thankful for the moisture”.
Rockwell, I just can’t resist, especially after reading the OP, but Winston was objecting to the silly rule that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. There, I feel better now.
Wally, I accept your correction and acknowledge my error.
“Strict grammarians like I was trained to be interrupt that connection by bringing in a third party that is unrelated to either the emotion or the content, by policing the rules of the communication itself.”
Strict grammarians like I WERE trained to be…..? Or, look at the whole sentence. It’s a bit out of sorts.
My guess, Angela, was you expected grammar nerds to proofread?
Either way, another great post.
Susan Brown: “Strict grammarians (like I was trained to be) interrupt that connection…” would be the correct form for that sentence. I am the one who was trained, and that should have been a parenthetical aside. IOW, the subject / verb pairings in that sentence are: 1) Strict grammarians interrupt, 2) I was trained (part of a dependent clause), 3) third party is.
I do have some verbal tics from my formative years in Central PA that come through in my writing, resulting in needlessly complex sentence structures that often take a second pass thru, but I can always map it back and explain why I did what I did. There are some “Pennsylvania Dutch”isms that are common to people from that area that are really based on German structures rather than English, but I have a hard time not using them and an even harder time identifying them when I do them.Plus, like Dennis Miller, I have a tendency to go down rabbit holes and rewrite sentences in ways that obscure rather than clarify meaning.
Great post. Good comments.
I recently purchased two copies of a refrigerator magnet that say, “I am silently correcting your grammar.” I am giving them to my daughters for Christmas. Not only did I correct their grammar when they were young, aI made them rephrase the grammatically-incorrect sentence in a grammatically correct manner. I guess it’s a miracle I wasn’t murdered in my sleep.
But I was vindicated last month when I took my 30-year-old daughter out to lunch. During the lunch, she had to proofread a presentation one of her subordinates had written up for the big boss, and which was due to be presented in an hour. She had a fit when she realized that the paper had used the phrase “antidotal evidence” six times. She immediately corrected the phrasing to “anecdotal evidence,” looked up, and told me, “Thank you for my upbringing.” Cue faux angelic smirk on my part.
On a serious note, and in response to John be H’s trenchant observations: I have also learned that language is often used to obscure meaning, as much as to convey it. The most horrible example in recent history is the German-language phrase, “Endlösung,“ or Final Solution—which actually meant the extermination of six million Jews.
In U.S. history, “separate but equal” meant segregated inequality, and “all deliberate speed” in Brown vs. Board of Education, however well-intentioned, actually came to mean “never in our lifetime.”
Sorry for typos; I blame my smart-phone, not the user, of course….ironic to have typos in a comment on grammar:
I was referring to Josh H’s comment. Don’t know if that was a typo or the food I was eating. Sorry again.
Rule following is easy and doing what’s “right” is more difficult. If my mindset is to do what I’m told then I don’t have to think and any negative consequences can be attributed to the person making the rules. Rule following can be a cop-out. Having to evaluate every situation about the right thing takes time, energy, and considering the possibility that one might be wrong.
The very best bishop I had tried to always ask what is best for the individual. He didn’t necessarily ignore the handbook but treated it more as guidelines. He was criticized by orthodox members and by the stake but virtually everyone who knew him thought he was the Best Bishop Ever.
Perhaps communicating with a recently graduated English major requires rigid adherence to grammar. Communicating with my Iranian son in law requires different language skills, and communicating with my wife is different yet again. Flexibility in communication style makes life better for us all.
I suppose if one is not fighting for survival – for food, clothing & a roof overhead – these kinds of meaningless debates could prove to be “mind candy” for those with full stomachs and not a care in the world; sort of like watching a mindless game show on American television and not being concerned about the wasted time.
@hawkgrrrl, thank you for this post. It’s very well written. You had me nearly laughing out loud.
I’m with @Rockwell that the appeal to rules w.r..t. the church enables it to function more consistently around the world and over time. I’ve often thought that visiting a ward in a foreign country is a lot like visiting a McDonald’s. One can’t parse the words the local cashier is saying, but it’s both oddly comforting and absolutely remarkable that the hamburger one gets tastes exactly the same. But all the policing needed to achieve that consistency comes at a cost. For instance, I’ve heard some very positive, creative ideas brought up in ward council meetings get crushed like a bug by someone asking, “But that’s not in The Handbook, is it?” Such an interruption and focus-change indeed has an effect akin to a grammar nazi’s. But then again, just as language divides and mutates more quickly if it’s not written or no one articulates its rules, so I suspect that the rules in the LDS church (mostly) keep it from devolving into different sects.
Especially interesting to me, though, are the LDS rules that some think are doctrinal and immutable but that, in fact, do change over time and context. In fact, I suspect that only a very few church or gospel rules that we *think* are immutable truly are.
I do not eat at McDonalds. When i was little we looked forward to going to McDonalds once a month as a special treat. I since have out grown McDonalds and know it is low quality food with low nutritional content. When i travel i research good local eats and would only consider McDonalds out of a last minute desperation decision It would be better than a local unknown dive where you could.get really sick. McDonalds is good for a clean bathroom. But i always.do my reaserch and plan ahead so i get a good nutritious meal with a local twist, instead of eatting a corporate piece of cardboard. .
I know we digress, but I’m following Faith’s lead. We were in Paris. We stopped for lunch at an adorable sidewalk cafe. Lo and behold, across the town square sat a McDonald’s. We had been in Paris for a few days and although it was an absolute delight (can’t wait to go back), those golden arches called my name. I skipped the traditional Parisian lunch and instead opted for McDonald’s. I’ve never lived that one down.
To my credit, I skipped Disneyland Paris. I couldn’t bring myself to do it when the Louvre, Notre Dame, etc., were waiting. No regrets.
The narcissism of small differences in the Mormon community continues as an impediment to achieving a true Zion society.
Although what I wrote about McDonald’s is my actual story; it was also an analogy my relation to the LDS church. The church worked for me (sorta) in my youth (until I was 45 years old, RM, Temple, kids mission, etc. mostly TBM). Over time, I recognized that I found more spiritual nutrients without the institution and the institution was causing me poor health. The church can be good for those who it works for, and I do not criticize those, but when it does not for me and the more I opened my eyes, I found it was actually toxic for
I was in leadership, no one ever reached out from the ward or stake and just watched me and my family literally walk away from the church without a phone call or any follow up. The anti-M would say lucky us. After decades of sacrifice and service; in the end the church really showed they did not care about the one, and the talk of the church does not match its’ action. I never stated any thing negative about the doctrine, just my disagreeing with early morning seminary and the local cliques, and from there I slowly went from front row, to back row, to foyer, to only sacrament, to no longer attending.
I prefer the French cafe (non-caffeinated), with local food nutrients in place the the cardboard church handbook of policy and procedures. I found my own happiness, without TSCC.
Back to topic…that was due to leaderwhip ignoring communication and wanting only follow the leadership approach.
I echo Wondering in that temple recommends does not seem to be a requirement for most callings. In different wards, I’ve been in primary and YW presidencies, a primary teacher, and an RS teacher without a recommend. When I taught RS, my bishop said he checked and my calling wasn’t one that required a TR. The size and desperation level of individual wards probably plays a role.
Interesting post. I’m not exactly a grammarian, but I do appreciate grammatical rules. I think they generally help communication. I’ve found certain changes to the language, such as using plural pronouns like “they” for non-binary people, to be particularly galling. When my daughter is talking about her friends and their activities, I never know who “they” are, especially since she makes the verb plural as well. If she said “they doesn’t like…” instead of “they don’t like…”, I would at least know she’s talking about her non-binary friend rather than her whole group of friends. What’s needed is a new pronoun, not a misappropriation of an existing one. In an effort to accommodate, we’re actually losing the ability to communicate. Just disregarding the old rules isn’t necessarily the right way to go.
I think this has parallels to “rulism” within the church as well. It seems to me that in an effort to make church more accommodating, there’s been a diminishment of certain “rules” that aren’t exactly important, but can nevertheless have value. I agree that the gospel has very few cultural requirements, but those it does require are difficult to achieve (eg., charity). Consequently, simple cultural practices and norms can be valuable (eg., home teaching). In their vigorous effort to diminish the disadvantages of these cultural norms, I think people have diminished their advantages even more. For example, I doubt the discontinuance of home teaching has led to less true ministering, as those who were truly ministering will undoubtedly continue to do so. But for many people who were home teaching out of a sense of duty, I think the odds of them becoming true ministers is the future has decreased, if for no other reason that with less face-to-face contact, they develop less of a real relationship.
Home teaching is just an example. The church clearly must change with the times, but the trick is to change in such a way as to gain the good we lacked without losing the good we had.
I like Pagan’s and Faith’s (and others) metaphor about McDonalds.
After reading Faith’s story it occurs to me that the traditions and rules and structure of the church have another key cause and/or purpose, that of supporting the lay clergy.
Ok, exmos like to complain about the general authorities getting paid; let’s set that aside. The vast majority of leadership, pretty much everyone at the local levels, are unpaid volunteers. Lots of churches have lay clergy or members that volunteer, but I think it’s pretty much unheard of for someone at the stake President level to be an unpaid volunteer. Bishop’s sacrifice so much time from their homes and families, it seems to me like they should be compensated.
Now I don’t know if a professional clergy would have been able to help Faith, if they would have noticed and intervened. But I do know that Bishops are generally overwhelmed. They frequently have a business to run, and dedicate all their spare time to their calling. I know multiple bishops who have had marital struggles during and after their tenure due, it seems, to the time they dedicated to their calling.
If bishops were paid, perhaps they could focus more on individual adaptation, to finding the lost sheep. Instead they perhaps follow the manual because it does the thinking for them. Just a thought.
I have no expectation that we’ll have paid local leaders. In fact, I think it’s even less likely that having women ordained (which is also probably not going to happen, unfortunately). So I do think the manuals and associated rules help the unpaid volunteer leadership to serve up McDouble – style experiences for people at church.
Sigh. Another reason grammar is going down the drain is the difficulty of editing on mobile devices. Apologies
Reading Faith’s post reminds me of on Facebook, I saw a beautiful post from John Dehlin thanking all the women who decided to leave the church, for their service and time that they provided. Acknowledging that when you leave, no one will thank you for all the prior years of devotion that you provided to us.
It made me want to cry because it was reposted by my friend’s mom who left the church but had devoted countless hours of her life beforehand and still does in order to support her family.
I realized what a sad people that we are (of which I’m guilty of) where we look down on people that leave instead of thanking them for all that they’ve done.
So thank you Faith and everyone else that stepped in serve and may you be blessed to find the joy you deserve.
@Rockwell, another idea for bishops: get rid of all the worthiness interviews and rules and manuals and have them focus on ministering and connecting with people instead of talking to them about chastity and sins … I think there is so much that takes up their time that doesn’t need to be done.
“I saw a beautiful post from John Dehlin thanking all the women who decided to leave the church”
Why don’t you ask Kate Kelly about John’s real attitude and behavior towards women?
Grammar correction is certainly one way to distract or derail a conversation.. Another is to devolve into personal attacks. Unfortunately the latter happens in LDS culture much too frequently.
I had a colleague in a very public position who would unintentionally abuse the English language. But he used it to his advantage. Real people misuse language, real people understood him. Ain’t that true.? We ;shouldn’t use snobbish perfectionism deter the free exchange of ideas. I have a lot of projects in developing countries. My communications with my friends are frequently difficult. English is their second or third or fourth language. Yet they are willing to engage with me on my terms. One of my favorite friends uses no caps and no punctuation. His spelling isn’t the best. It is fun and an challenge to try and get the gist of his message. His native language is Quechua, his official country language is Spanish, and then comes English and a couple of other languages (he is a tour guide). Yet he is happy to engage with me in English.
Whether someone has a PhD in the sciences or social sciences or is largely uneducated shouldn’t slow the interchange of ideas. Life or lived experiences are frequently more important than heavy researched ones. We should all try to use words and expressions that people in general understand.
For my whole life I have used short sentences. Frequently they lack verbs. I have no agenda, that’s simply the way I write. When I read posts and comments by Russell on T&S, they are difficult to understand. Sentences are too long and some of his words are not commonly used in the general population. They are unnecessarily exclusionary. Which is unfortunate since I like many of his ideas, I think.
I also use too much slang. This makes communication with ESL friends occasionally confusing. So I”m trying to stop using as much slang. But it’s difficult to unlearn 75 years of bad habits. Fortunately for me, English has become a de facto global language. This makes life easier for me. I need to clean up my act.
This was an excellent post.
I really like your comparison of church rules to grammar rules. What I think makes it especially interesting is thinking about it from a prescriptivist versus descriptivist perspective. As I understand it, a prescriptivist approach views rules like you describe them in this post, as primary and organizing to what happens in language (or in church). A descriptivist approach, on the other hand, views rules as ad-hoc frameworks that people come up with after the fact to understand and categorized what has already happened in language (or in church).
I think most of us easily slide into a prescriptivist view–of *course* the rules come first–but that descriptivism is more realistic. Particularly when it comes to language, it’s pretty clear that language evolved and lots of languages had evolved and changed and mixed over thousands of years before anyone decided to try to work out what rules a particular language was following. This is clearly descriptivist work.
The Church might seem like a different story, since we have Handbooks and scriptures and stuff, but I think it’s actually pretty similar. Joseph Smith came along with all kinds of ideas borrowed from various sources and some he made up from whole cloth and his views evolved over time and lots of the strangest stuff he only brought up near the end of his life, but it wasn’t as though he was ever working from a particular rule book about how things were going to go. He kept re-making the Church in different ways. Brigham Young, although not quite as outlandish, was also clearly not working from a rule book, what with his invention of Adam-God and blood atonement and whatnot. So then it seems like it fell to later people like James E. Talmage to work out after the fact how all the doctrines that Smith and Young and others had come up with fit into a rational framework. Anyway, that’s why I think it’s descriptivism.
Closely related, one of my favorite posts ever on the blogs is my sister’s post where she does a similar thing and talks about doctrine as grammar. How do we know what’s doctrinal or not? We don’t really consult scriptures or Handbooks, even if that’s what we’d like to think we do. If we’ve been immersed in the Church for a long time, we know from *experience* of what things are taught and said whether a teaching fits as a doctrine or not.
@Ziff: What! You mean the Tower of Babel wasn’t real? Should I tell my family? 😉
Late to the game here, but
1) Reading grammar rules can be entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny if the book you are reading is “Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style”
2) My small midwest ward is generally happy to have people who show up (pre-covid) and do stuff (even if they don’t conform to all the rules.) We had a primary president with pink hair and a nose ring. The area 70 and stake president like to make up new rules to show off “righteousness”, and that drives me nuts. I have to write letters that I try to make sound thoughtful and not angry.