How to Speak Mormon

Does it make me a bad person if the only thing I remember from church last Sunday is that every single speaker used the phrase “grateful for the opportunity” at least once?

We Mormons (non-Mormons: Stop reading now! I’m not talking to you) use the word “opportunity” far too often. Priesthood guys used to come around saying, “Did you have the opportunity to do your home teaching this month?” And I’d respond truthfully: “Yes, I had the opportunity.” Heck, I had lots of opportunities. That doesn’t mean I did it. But that’s not what they asked, and I like the idea of using someone else’s poor syntax to dodge the issue. (I am counting on the questions at the Pearly Gates being similarly vague.)

The other way we use “opportunity” is when we want to express having done something, but we want to use a lot of words to say it, possibly because we think we are being paid by the syllable. When giving a talk in church, never say in two minutes what can be said just as easily in five.

It might be a humility thing, too. Saying, “I went to the moon” sounds boastful. But “I had the opportunity to go to the moon” has the subtext of, “This was through no fault of my own, I assure you, and I’m really lucky to have gone.”

This subtext is particularly clear if you say it in a spiritual tone of voice. And by “spiritual,” of course I mean “quiet.” If you whisper when you talk, you are conveying spirituality. Conversely, it is impossible to be spiritual if you speak in a normal tone of voice. Using a loud voice is downright wrong, and if you yell, it’s the same as having Satan deliver your sermon for you.

Saying, “I had the opportunity to go” instead of “I went” is a waste of words, certainly. But sometimes Mormons conserve energy, too, and use a kind of verbal shorthand.

A few of these are already well-established. For instance, everyone knows that if a woman has a “sweet spirit,” that’s code for “she’s as ugly as Janet Reno,” and if a man is a “nice guy,” that’s code for “he’s as ugly as Janet Reno.” And Orson Scott Card, the famed author of science-fiction and other children’s stories, once pointed out to me that among Mormons, “humble” means “proud.” (“I am really humbled at being named People’s Sexiest Man Alive.”)

I am grateful for the opportunity to show you some more examples I’ve compiled:

• “share” = “make you listen to” (“I’d like to share a story.”)

• “special” = any adjective with a positive connotation; indicates the speaker has warm feelings but lacks the vocabulary to express them (“It was a special experience.”) (See also: “choice”)

• “brethren” (pronounced “broth-ern”) = “everyone here, including women”

• “struggling,” as in “Brother So-and-So is ‘struggling’ with some things right now” = “You wouldn’t believe how much porn Brother So-and-So has downloaded.”

• “Young Men’s program” = “Boy Scouts of America”

• “less active” = “not the least bit active”

• “Democrat” = “less active”

• “Word of Wisdom” = “don’t drink or smoke”

• “inappropriate” = “I personally don’t approve of that, and I’m sure no one else does, either.”

• “not very Christlike” = “I personally don’t approve of that, and I’m sure Jesus doesn’t, either.”

• “diverse” = “some non-Mormons are there, too”

• “be tolerant” = “pretend you don’t hate gay people”

• “I am being tried and tested” = “I think God has it in for me”

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into Mormon terminology. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the opportunity to get some work done.

If you haven't been to church lately, go. You get so many fun column ideas. This column, by the way, was prompted by what was actually a very good sacrament meeting, and I did get more out of it than just "grateful for the opportunity" (which I say all the time now). But yes, to be honest, probably the thing I'll remember the longest was that phrase.

Orson Scott Card has been a very supportive reader, and I checked with him before telling the whole world that he has corresponded with me. I was also sure to crack a joke about him (referring to science-fiction as "children's stories"), mainly so it wouldn't look like I was name-dropping.

My editor, who was not LDS, said, "I should have stopped reading the column when you told me to." He didn't get most of the jokes, and I don't blame him. I tried not to write such exclusive columns as this one very often. But the fact was, an overwhelming majority of Daily Herald readers -- something like 95 percent -- were LDS, so it didn't hurt to occasionally write something specifically for them.

As you read this column, you can almost imagine the angry letters being formulated by people who are furious that I have dared to make jokes about Mormons. And yet I received no angry letters. What's up with that?