Book of Mormon Lexicon

This talk was written to be given in the Oak Creek Ward, Meridian ID on 12 March.  Due to a fire alarm getting pulled, it wasn't presented and I don't want the thoughts to be unshared and so I'm posting it here.

While Chrissy has introduced our family as part of her talk I get to introduce myself.  I grew up a kid with a lot of energy and as I’ve aged I’ve learned to put that energy into different subjects over the years.  I rarely lose myself in a novel, because I just tend not to read novels.  I’m more comfortable going through a text book on a subject I’m curious about or thumbing through etymology in a dictionary.  On my commute to work I’ve usually got a podcast or an audio book playing.

We all have places we've said fond goodbyes to over the years.

We all have places we've said fond goodbyes to over the years.

I’ve become a bit eccentric about certain things I’ve studied over the years.  A friend of mine at work and I are putting together a list of things people shouldn’t ask me if they want short answers to questions.  We’ve titled the list “Don’t ask the following if you want a short answer.”  The list includes my opinion on the merits of the Oxford Comma.  Which I imagine others have strong opinions about as well.  It also includes things like asking me which font to use.  My farewell talk in Germany included fonts.  The #1 thing on the list is asking me what my favorite dictionary is.  Yes there is a difference, and if you’d like to talk about it, let’s do it when there’s some good food.  I’m sure this subject will make me the most popular person at the Ward Christmas party.  Set a reminder on your phone to sit with the Roeckers!

Usually in my talks I try to throw in some odd insight and tie it back to the gospel.  Today I’d like to share two words with you in my talk about the Book of Mormon.  Today’s words are gongoozle and adieu.  The first word is wonderfully specific and I doubt you realize that you’ve been guilty of gongoozling in your life.  The word has truly British origins and means to stare at the behavior in a canal.  It’s oddly specific right?  It doesn’t mean to look at a stream, or a river, but only the behavior in a canal.  While you probably didn’t ever believe you needed that word in your life, enough people did that some lexicographer added it to the dictionary and there we have one of the most oddly specific words in the English lexicon.  So, if the weather’s good and you see a canal, go ahead and do a bit of gongoozling.  I personally find it very relaxing.

I was asked to talk about the Book of Mormon and in particular reference the conference talks from the October’s General Conference.  The talk I’ve chosen to reference today is by Elder Gary E. Stevenson.  In his talk he has four sections.  First he starts with a personal story about a twelve year old girl being touched by the spirit to read the Book of Mormon while others had concluded she was too young to grasp its meaning and importance.

The second part of his talk explains the keystone of an archway and how the Book of Mormon is often compared to a keystone.  Joseph Smith is the most pronounced individual to declare that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion.  Elder Stevenson challenged his audience in this section to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimony.

His final two sections involve his personal witness of the book and encouraging others to seek within its pages to obtain their own personal witness.  In his call to receiving your own personal witness he quotes the specific challenge and promise at the end of the Book of Mormon where Moroni challenges his audience to read, remember, and ask if the book is true.

Rainey and I were talking this morning about how some gospel rules come with specific blessings while others are more general.  We covered why tithing is sometimes referred to as fire insurance.  We discussed the word of wisdom in D&C 89, and then talked about the ten commandments.  The challenge to honor thy father and thy mother comes with the promise that thy days may be long on the land the Lord thy God shall give thee.  After just having talked about daylight savings time, Rainey believed--just for a moment--that this meant there’d be more sunlight during the day to give you time to play with friends.

When you have a detailed promise in the scriptures it’s ok to be detail oriented in your study of the scriptures.  I loved the details I’ve discovered in the Book of Mormon.  1 Nephi 13:12 has Christopher Columbus.  One verse later you read that all of our ancestors who crossed the ocean to come to this land were each led by the Spirit.  3 Nephi 11 is rich with the simplicity and beauty of the instructions the Savior personally gave to the Nephites, but for my father this section was an answer to prayers he said as a non member.  He told a friend once that if Jesus Christ really was who he said he was, then more ought to be written about him than just what’s in the Bible.  One of the friends he shared that with was LDS, and my dad’s life has never been the same since.

Nephi’s writing style is like a delicious meal.  He’s very careful in the way he talks about his brothers.  Laman and Lemuel may have made poor choices, but have you ever noticed how Nephi never uses aggressive or demeaning language when writing about them?  He goes out of his way to narrate their role in his family’s story without any excess negativity.  I do hope that we can adopt this tone in our own families.

The second word I wanted to share with you is the word Adieu.  It appears one time in all of the standard works at the end of the book of Jacob.  We teach our children that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into English.  But Adieu is a French word.  I struggle often with words that have a French etymology.  French words have been known to invade the English language before.  Most of our meat words are from French.  For example beef has a French origin but comes from a cow.  This has to do with the fact that the French nobility in England could afford to eat their animals and used words for the meat that were different than the words the peasantry used for the animals themselves.

So Joseph Smith is commanded to translate the book into English and chooses a French word.  While to most of us Adieu is nothing more than an elegant way to say goodbye and certainly when it’s used in Jacob 7:27 it is when Jacob is saying goodbye to his readers, but why didn’t Joseph just use goodbye?  The answer is in the specifics of the word.  No word in English is specific enough to share what Jacob is trying to say.  He’s not simply saying farewell. The dieu in adieu refers to deity and adieu means not only farewell, but a parting that calls upon the listener to remember their God.  He’s saying in our parting I commit you to God.  The farewell is familiar and contains a tone of finality fitting of an eloquent man.

While we may have specific words like gongoozle in our lexicon, we had nothing better to express this thought.

Elder Stevenson's challenge to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimonies is a challenge with great promised blessings.  His testimony included the belief that these blessings are available to all regardless of age.  The process for doing this is to follow Moroni’s advice to read, remember, and ask.  My testimony to you this day is that the Book of Mormon is true and that as you return to Moroni’s formula you can have a greater appreciation for what the keystone of our religion can do in your life.  Sometime it’ll inspire a dramatic instantaneous life change.  Other time it may just be enough to teach an amateur etymology enthusiast like myself that words with French origins aren’t that bad.