Monday, June 5, 2017


The Confounding of the Language

by Wes Clark

I must first state that I found life in Utah to represent something of a culture shock, and not just linguistically. I'm from Los Angeles; when I knew I'd be attending BYU I expected ivy-covered halls as in Eastern universities, not girls in ski jackets over Gunne Sax dresses and guys in Swedish knit suits wearing little grooming standards-compliant "Hey, look: I'm a male!" mustaches. I grew to admire the place, but it took time.

Many non-natives have correctly identified the interchange of o and a sounds; Utah is the only state where one may "throw an apple car out the core window" - and it's pronounced American Fark instead of Fork, for instance. One reader, an English major at the U of U (oh, well), has identified this as a Scottish dialect, and notes that Cache County and American Fork were, in fact, settled by Scottish pioneers. The town of Highland, in Utah, was named by a Scot who said the foothills reminded him of Scotland. But she also notes this dialectical inversion seems to be fading among younger speakers.

Another unique characteristic - whether ethnic not, I do not know - is the introduction of a clipped t sounds into words. For instance, the word "teacher" would be pronounced "teat-chur," with a distinct, short halt between the syllables. In Utah, one might hear "Sister Jent-sen is my new spear-tchual living teat-chur. She wants me to always bring my scrip-tchurs." Some sounds are stretched out, as a Southerner might do: "Golll, Sister Christiant-sen is reely see-ick (sick)!"

The Utahnics (it probably would be pronounced "yew-TAH-neeks" by natives) word that causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand up is "brothern" instead of "brethren." (There is no word "brothern" in the dictionary. I know, I looked.) I hear it all the time - people just sort of take it for granted that such a word exists. Also, Melchizidek (mel-KIZ-eh-deck) is usually mispronounced "mal-kaz-eh-dick." You'd think we'd get this one right, seeing as how it's so important. Another one that drives me nuts is the pulpit formula "We'd like to welcome you to (whatever meeting it is)" instead of the more direct "We welcome you to..." or, better yet, a simple "Welcome to..." I have seldom heard these more direct greetings, but I intend to use them should someone ever be unwise enough to call me to be in a bishopric. When I simply welcome people to the meeting by saying "Welcome to Sacrament meeting," I expect considerable confusion among the congregants.

Mormon sacrament meetings are by nature very conservative affairs, with a more or less standard program and phraseology. For example, have you ever heard a sacrament musical number that wasn't "special?" (It's usually pronounced "spatial.") No matter how bad it is, it's still special, which begs the question what, exactly, is "special?" My opinion is that if everything is special then nothing is special. (This is not confined to Utah, however. In a public school in Virginia my son was taught a goofy little self-esteem enhancement song called "I Am Special," which he and his friends proceeded to mock pitilessly, with spastic choreography. I suspect the rising generation will become profoundly confused as to what this word really means.) Our new bishop created mild surprise by stating that the musical number performed by the choir was "stirring." We're not used to hearing that adjective from the podium. As for me, I say hooray. Not only was it generous praise, it was a promising foray into new adjectives. (There are so many good ones in English, why confine ourseves to "special?") And when everyone else in America uses the word "choice," they refer to abortion. When a Utahn over-uses it, he means "select."

During one General Conference, a friend pointed out that general authorities are using the word "supernal" a lot, three times in one session. I expect this one to become fairly common, in much the same way "paradisiacal" has. (By the way, if you cannot restrain yourself from using this word, it's pronounced "para-di-SIGH-uh-cal.")

Also, that organization where men are in control? It's patriartical. At least, that's what it is in Utah.

Why bother with a lifetime struggle for Godhood when somebody at the pulpit will break into a prayer during a testimony or a talk and close with the phrase "In the name of thy son, Amen," elevating everyone in the congregation to the status of Heavenly Father? (It's either that or the speaker is profoundly confused as to whom he or she is talking.)

I personally have always made an effort to deliberately slow down at the end of prayers when I get to the "I ask these things in the name..." part. Many Church members--especially young men--blaze through this, as if it were a mere formality to be dispensed with as quickly as possible. (Sometimes the entire prayer is accelerated. One of my LDS Boy Scouts recently hit an all time land speed record for a blessing on the food, despite continued admonitions from his father.) I am happy to report that my children do not rush through the closing part, apparently taking my example (hooray!), and someone once favorably noted this to me. Speaking of the young men, have you ever noticed that the thought of a traffic fatality always seems to be behind their public prayers? The formulaic incantation about "getting home safely" is a near constant in my ward. (It must work; fortunately, we haven't had an in-transit crack-up yet.)

I note with growing fear the introduction of the word "less-active" in place of the more accurate word "inactive." This represents either the inclusion of politically correct ideology or the triumph of optimism. Let's face it, folks: if a person doesn't ever darken the church doorway he's inactive, and probably damned inactive as well. (Personally, I think the gospel would have more force on people's minds if we revived the good old word "damned." Hey--I may well be on my way to being damned for writing this article!)

Quirks of tamed corporate speech have slipped into church meetings. I'm in a ward just outside of Washington D.C. with a disproportionate number of office weenies (I'm one) as ward members, so maybe it's just wards in sophisticated urban areas that adopt the worst of corporate speech. What am I talking about? Well, people often do not have problems, they have "issues." People don't talk or tell, they "express," and in formal situations, members don't gripe, they "express concerns." Finally, people in church sometimes "speak to issues" the way they do at work to view graphs, etc. (I wasn't aware that people conversed with abstractions or inanimate objects. If I were caught speaking to a wall, for instance, people would think I was nuts.)

Another example is the word "opportunity," which is mightily overused in the church. (Some day I'd love to hear, "I had the opportunity to be badly injured in a car accident," or "The expensive camera was left on the table unwatched so I took the opportunity of putting it in my purse and walking away with it.") If a non-member listened to enough Mormon conversations he could be forgiven for thinking we were nothing but merciless opportunists! Anyway, yes, we all know that we are supposed to be thankful for every opportunity that presents itself - which is fine - but personally, I get tired of hearing this spoken of as if by rote. And this whole business of taking advantage of every opportunity sounds more like modern American motivational business psychology than Gospel. (I have a name for this LDS business mindset: "Franklin/Coveyism," after those omnipresent planners church members carry.)

And I know we Mormons believe in revelation and all that, but I really hate it when we discuss what people "envision." I stepped into a fast food joint the other day and saw a plaque on the wall describing the "regional service vision." (Do you suppose the McDonald's CEO is sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator?) And the clown's competitor, Roy Rogers, told me via a big sign that I have a "right" to fast food. I'm aware of my rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights, but I'm reasonably sure eating greasy food isn't one of them.

Oh, say, what is truth? Good question, in Utah. The church is "true," the Gospel is "true," and I once heard a BYU coed state in a testimony meeting that "BYU is a true school." (I was glad to hear this, knowing that my tuition money wasn't going to, say, a fake school or a car dealership.) A Mormon saying something is "true," no matter what it is, has a conviction behind it that is entirely missing with non-Mormons.

The days of the week are different in Utah than they are in the other states of the Union. They are: Mondee, Tuesdee, Wednesdee, Thursdee, Fridee, Saturdee and The Sabbath.

Something too precious for words (probably tole-painted) is "Fer cuuuute!" The cuter it is, the longer that final word is held. If it's reely, reely, cuuuuute, there will probably be a "Gol!" uttered as well.

Sure, there's swearing in Utah. "My heck," "Scrud!" and "Fetch!" (which sound exceptionally silly to non-Utahns) all attest to body parts and passions. "Gol," is a mild swear word, displaying a desire for emphasis without invoking the name of Diety. (The word is unique to Utah but the practice of softening the name of the Lord for expletives is not. Shakespeare uses a few hundred of these words and phrases.) In Utah, a person who is merely rude will be called ignorant: "Gol - He was being so ignernt to me!" If "The Glory of God is Intelligence," then there must be some exceptionally well-mannered souls in heaven.

"The hand of fellowship" and "sweet spirit" are phrases that also should have been dust-binned long ago, and, just for once, I would like to hear the word "forever" used in place of "time and all eternity." The present tense is indicated by the filler phrases "at this time," which is normally overused in blessings, and "this day." Apparently a humble attitude is always maintained in prayers, however, since people commonly ask that "we might be able to..." rather than that we will or we can, etc. The whole thing sounds pretty tentative to me. Really, sometimes I think the Lord must feel like the animated version in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," when he demands of King Arthur, "Oh, do stop grovelling!"

Other readers of this article have told me of another pronunciation variant common to Utah, the extra "L." Apparently a small number of Utahns tend to insert an "L" sound after some vowels. For instance, "Utahl", "Jolsuph Smee-uth", and "Bee Why Ule is in Prole-vole." To me it sounds like the speaker is on the verge of saying "Gol" but says something else instead. The same readers have identified Utahns replacing "-ing" with "-een." For example, "Halve you dun yer visiteen teetcheen and holme teetcheen?" and "falmly holme eveneen." This sounds to me like a Utah variation of what people in America often do, replacing -ing with -in' (eatin' rather than eating, for instance). Utahns also often pronounce "Italian" as "Eye-talian," which sounds to me about as hick as one can get. (It really gets on my wife's nerves--she's half Italian.)

New Utah language quirks arise all the time. A correspondent in Spanish Fork tells me people there sometimes say "for that I can" instead of "so that I can," for instance, and they also sometimes say "varely" when they mean "barely." (It's suggested this is a result of the common use of the word "verily.") My wife points out the phrase "He was so ig-nernt to me," as if stupidity was a mask one could put on or take off at will. (The word ignorant is an adjective, not a verb.) Another correspondent has this one: "He came down from up to Salt Lake," or "She went down to St. George from up to Vernal." Sounds like a variant on the "down Maine" thing to me.

One alert reader has pointed out a confusion between "ail" sounds with "ell" sounds, as in "He's going to jell for that," "I got those shoes on sell," (apparently things go on sell all the time in commercials), "That is so stell (stale)!" and "She breaded her harse's tell."

There is also a question of how to pronounce the names of some Utah cities, Hurricaine ("Hurkin" and "Hurrikin" being common) and Layton (LAY-un, with no "t" in it).

Warning! One news flash I got was that the phrase "Lov ya lon time" ("Love you a long time") is making its way throughout the state. My informant tells me she fears this will be as popular as "fetch" and "gol." I fear with her.

Well, as far as Utahnics is concerned, I must give it as my opinion that it can't possibly represent perfect speech as practiced "for time and all eternity" among inhabitants of the Celestial level of glory. Please, somebody tell me it ain't Adamic, or I'm going to conduct my life in such a way as to deserve the eternal company of people who speak a form of English I can at least understand when they assure me I'm being damned.



(Somebody sent this to me; I have no idea of its authorship - Wes)

The Alpine School District is considering recognizing a new language: Utahnics, a genetically-based form of communication among natives of Utah County, based on Deseret and aboriginal American Fork pioneers. A typical sentence in Utahnics is: "Him and his brother was going to unthaw his store-boughten dinner."

The board feels the change is needed since ALL the district's bus drivers speak ONLY Utahnics. Huh? So what's the big deal? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't -- irregardless, I could care less.

[I'm not sure if this is intentional or not, but there is no such word as "irregardless." - Wes]

A few terms have been added to the Utahnics thesaurus: "Opening Invocation," "patriarchial," "OhMyHeck," "Anditcametopass," "simular," and "tore." (That last is used as follows: "In Paris, we took the sight-seeing tore.")

Here's a few more thoughts on Utahnics (pronounced yew-TAH-nix). [I think it would be pronounced Eu-TAW-neeks - Wes] The major rules or elements of Utahnics seem to be dropping unneccessary syllables and avoidance or pronouncing either the "oh" or "ooh" sounds. I believe dropping syllables is a direct outgrowth of the inherent spartan nature or thriftiness of most Utahns. Possibly because most of them give 10% to 20% of their income to their church, they feel it necessary to conserve elsewhere, so they hold back at least 10% of their syllables.

Avoidance of pronouncing oh and ooh sounds is probably due to under-developed facial "puckering" muscles caused by abstinence from kissing, along with all other forms of male-female contact prior to approved courtship age. Also, oh and ooh sounds are considered to be decadent and worldly. (Consider the French language, it's loaded with them, and we all know the French represent the pinnacle of decadence and worldliness).

Oh sounds may be replaced by either the short-a sound as in "Praise the Lard" ("Praise the Lord") or the short-e sound as in "fer ignernt" ("For ignorant" - notice the dropped syllable also). One rare variant is the "Panguitch dialect." In addition to the above, they also substitute the forbidden oh sound for the a sound as in "Barn in a born" ("Born in a barn"). This is very rare, however. My theory is that early Panguitch settlers had French ancestry, and they couldn't entirely get away from their decadent oh-speaking heritage.

As with Ebonics, people who speak Utahnics are genetically pre-disposed to do so. Therefore, I am convinced that we must allocate funds to teach Utahnics to non-natives. I have included a few Utahnics phrases below to illustrate the magnitude of the problem.

"djeet?" ("Did you eat?")
"lawnmore" (lawn mower)
"leafblore" (leaf blower)
"cha" (You)
"ain'tcha?" (Aren't you?)
"dcha?" (Did you?)
"djew?" ("Did you?", Panguitch version)
"squeet" ("Let's go eat)
"Lardy, Darthy, that's a gargeous ahrange farmal!" ("Lordy, Dorothy, that's a gorgeous orange formal!")
Here is a typical Utahnics conversation:
LaVerl: "Djeet yet?"
LaVell: "No, djew?"
LaVar: "Squeet!"
[The conversation above isn't merely confined to Utah; it's a characteristic of abbreviated speech throughout America. I remember my non-Utahn/LDS high school French teacher complaining about this twenty plus years ago. - Wes]

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