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D. Kelly Ogden
Friday, February 08 2013

Anticipating the Most Refined Society

By D. Kelly Ogden Notify me when this author publishesComment on Article
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For many years I have been known to start my classes each semester at Brigham Young University in a rather unusual way. I go straight to the board, write certain words, and ask the students how we should pronounce them: Melchizedek (Mel-KIZ-e-dek), patriarchal (not patriartical), paradisiacal (pa-ra-di-SI-a-cal), Chaldees (with a hard “k” sound to begin), irrevocably (ir-re-VO-ca-bly or ir-REV-e-ca-bly, either way—Webster doesn’t care), shew (a biblical word with an old English spelling, properly pronounced “show,” just like we pronounce what we do with a needle: “sew”), Ensign (EN-sign, not EN-s’n), and err (not pronounced “air” but “ur,” as Abraham’s hometown, or as the word “urn”).

Next, I ask students how to write the following words: Israel (not Isreal, as it sometimes appears), Ephraim (not Ephriam), Millennium (always with two “l”s and two “n”s—unless it’s misspelled), apostasy (not apostacy, though the verb changes to apostatize), prophecy (though the verb is prophesy), judgment (though judgement is also correct, if the publication is from London or Liverpool—the British still spell it with the middle “e”), altar (as in sacrifice; not alter, which is a different word), grateful (not greatful), and “a lot” (not alot).

In writing we should not use the spoken terms “could of” and “would of” where we really mean “could have” and “would have.” And there is quite a difference between the homonyms site and sight and cite; also counsel and council. The only way to correctly make the Book of Mormon plural is not “Books of Mormon” or “Book of Mormons” but copies of the Book of Mormon.

We might want to be careful how we use the term “pre-existence,” since there is technically no such thing. We use the word frequently, because we know what we mean by it, but technically we have always existed in some form or other. A better way of saying it is “pre-mortal existence,” “pre-mortal life,” or “pre-earth life.” Also, we might want to avoid calling one of our volumes of sacred scripture, the “D&C.” We use that abbreviation all the time in writing, but when we speak we could take an extra second or two and call it what it is, and emphasize what it contains: the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church. Some in the world know “D&C” as “dilation and curettage”—meaning expanding a womb and scraping it out—in some cases removing substances and tissues after an abortion. We certainly don’t want to use an abbreviation where someone may be thinking in that context! Another caution: In our adulthood we often refer to our initial experience in the Temple as “taking out our endowments.” An endowment is a sacred gift of knowledge; instead of “taking it out” we are actually receiving it.

When students write papers they frequently use the expressions “what struck me . . . ” or “what stuck out to me” (or even an occasional “what struck out to me . . .”). Teachers tire of those expressions. Some students have devised alternative approaches: “the passage which caught my fancy . . .” or even “another phrase protruded into the realm of my deeper thought . . .” That is certainly more creative.


I love belonging to an organization that believes that if there’s something worth doing, it’s worth doing in a quality way. Joseph Smith had an indefatigable appetite for learning. What does that big word “indefatigable” mean? It means insatiable, unquenchable, not able to be satisfied. He wanted to learn all he could about everything. When schools of the prophets and schools of the elders were organized in the early decades of the restored Church, the Prophet and other leaders studied not only theology, but also Hebrew and other languages, penmanship, English literature and grammar, arithmetic, philosophy, government, geography, and history. Those who are endowed with the Spirit of the Lord are anxious to seek out of the best books—and from the best teachers—and learn every good thing. All this is part of the purpose of the Church: to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.

Brigham Young wrote, “All the knowledge, wisdom, power, and glory that have been bestowed upon the nations of the earth, from the days of Adam till now, must be gathered home to Zion” (Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe, 245). President Young also encouraged the Saints to “learn everything that the children of men know, and be prepared for the most refined society upon the face of the earth, then improve upon this until we are prepared and permitted to enter the society of the blessed . . . in the presence of God” (Journal of Discourses, 16:77).

President John Taylor went a step further when he exclaimed: “You will see the day that Zion will be as far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters. You mark my words, and write them down, and see if they do not come to pass” (Journal of Discourses, 21:100).

We Must Excel in Learning

So the Latter-day Saints are trying to excel in every field and discipline of learning. Here is one more illustration of how we could improve and refine our communication skills. In most employment settings there is writing to be done, so in educational settings it is wise to learn to improve our writing skills. If we’re honest with ourselves, generally speaking we can admit that we don’t write very well—especially with the multitude of hand-held devices we’re using to communicate in the twenty-first century, with increasingly diminishing concern for spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and other valuable communication practices. We are prone to dismiss traditional skills and correctness in favor of brevity.

Of all the steps involved in preparing a good document—gathering, researching, outlining, writing, and reviewing—perhaps the most critical step is proofreading. Before anything written is submitted for use or publication it should be proofread by one or more persons. The more eyes perusing the document, the better. It will save the author(s) some embarrassment.

Every Day Easy Errors

I have seen numerous “scribal errors” in students’ papers over the years, and I have collected and preserved some of the funniest and some of the most ridiculous. A master’s student some years ago submitted to me the final copy of his thesis (the copy that was to be bound and placed in the university library). He was writing about enemy approaches to Jerusalem in ancient warfare. One sentence of the thesis read that Joshua and the armies of Israel “slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon,” only he had left the “s” off the word slaughter. A few pages later I read about “the threat of an Assyrian onslaught,” but he had left the “h” out of the word threat. I chuckled, but then realized that this was the final copy of his thesis.

A student in a Book of Mormon class turned in a paper that began: “Its story has a vital massage for all people . . .” The student meant “a vital message for all people,” but I suppose the word massage could have some symbolic meaning also. An honors paper contained the encouragement to “do all things with an I single to the glory of God.” A student in a Bible class wrote, “it was good to have reconfirmed to me that the Bible is so impotent to many people.


  1. Bravo! I loved this piece. I wish education once again would include diction, elocution, poetry memorization, Latin, and all the other lost subjects that could bring so much refinement to our world. For Christmas I gave one of our kids a T-shirt that read, "Let's eat Grandma. Let's eat, Grandma. Commas save lives."
  2. I think we should our best work in every aspect of our lives, but does mispronouncing or misspelling a word disqualify us from "the most refined society"? Will the illiterate, those with speech impediments, and graduates of "other" colleges be automatically rejected from Zion? I am curious, as well, about your approach to teaching the "correct" way to be a Mormon student. Do you single out students during the exercise at the beginning of the semester and attempt to teach them by humiliation if they are wrong? Are students whose native language is not English included in the exercise? The scriptures make it clear that the Savior wants EVERYONE to come unto Him, and I think that includes those who err (which, by the way, according to my dictionary, comes from a French word that means "to be in error" and can be pronounced "ur" OR "er") in speech and writing. I think we can strive to do our best without striving to prove that we are better than everyone else. I sincerely hope that in publishing this article you are being facetious, but I sense that you are not, so I'm sincerely GRATEful that I didn't go to BYU because even though I would have answered most of your questions correctly, I wouldn't have been good enough! I live in a rural area with a strong dialect, and most people disregard rules of grammar, but I hope that my friends of other faiths don't feel that I act like I am better than they are. I may not use the word "ain't", but I don't poke fun at people who do. What about the message of the Savior in Matthew 18? "And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." My young children rarely speak or spell properly, but theirs is the "refined society" I'd prefer to be a part of.
  3. "Air" or "ur" are both correct pronunciations of err, according to my dictionary!
  4. Indefatigable means that you can be tired. Really, that's what it means.
  5. ooops--that you can't be tired!
  6. This is a great article. In a world where mediocrity is celebrated, we of all people must strive for excellence in all we do. As a writer I often cringe at the spoken and written assaults on our language. Like "Concerned" I grew up in an area where a portion of the poplulation spoke with a "strong dialect" (Georgia), but one can speak with an accent and yet still strive to speak correctly. My mother taught me that it was a sign of respect to yourself and others. Personally I hope "Concerned" is teaching his/her little children to speak correctly. Paul said "when I was a child I spake as a child .... but when I became a man I put away childish things." I LOVE BYU and am proud to be an alumnus along with two of my children. I'm grateful that everything is taught there (at least it is supposed to be) with the spirit of God. I doubt seriously that Bro. Ogden humiliates his students by teaching then correct speaking, spelling, etc. I'm sure he is trying to improve their lives. But Joni, can we please not have to go back to learning Latin? (except for "carpe diem" - I like that one.) Have a great day ya'll!
  7. Hooray! Someone (Brother Ogden) has finally said what I and my family have been noticing for a long, long time, and which I was thinking about in the middle of the night last night, actually, and that is the poor spelling and grammar we read every day in many places. We really need to teach spelling and grammar (and even handwriting) again in schools. Thank you, Brother Ogden!
  8. As an editor and proofreader for an academic publisher, I have seen thousands of errors in final submissions from around the country and across the globe. Most of them seem to come from relying too heavily on the computer to correct their spelling and grammar. My favorite is from Canada; the title of a Masters thesis from a large university was "Indicators of Milk Production in the Holstein Bull." Sometimes, I think no one in the entire school ever reads what students write!
  9. Thank you, Dr. Ogden, for the enlightening lesson! As a BYU mother I had the awesome opportunity to audit a few BYU classes. This experience truly broadened my perspective and whet my appetite for more. There was a noticeable influence of the Spirit in the Professors' teaching, which was superior to what I had witnessed in classes of my college years (in the 70's at another university). With Spell Check and other helpful aids as fairly common tools, there is little excuse for final papers, such as you have quoted, to be submitted at the end of a college course. As a convert to the Church, I am particularly sensitive to the mispronounciation of the word Melchizedek. I also request of the Teachers who voice the Sacrament prayers for our congregation that they make sure their "k" sound is clear when they speak the word "ask". Our correct use of words, in whatever language we speak, shows respect for exactness and truth, a form of righteousness. By carefully choosing our spoken and written words, we exhibit a willingness to humble ourselves and to position ourselves for growth through self-control.
  10. All of three of my dictionaries show both pronunciations of "err".
  11. Thank you for this article. I seriously doubt that Dr. Ogden would intentionally hurt anyone's feelings, and I don't think there's any harm in refining our understanding of the English language. I'm afraid I have to admit to being one of those people who text in complete sentences! I'm also a legal proofreader. :)
  12. This article comes at an interesting time. As I closely follow the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (now adopted by almost all states so they can get federal money), I am amazed and alarmed at the abandonment of cursive and the subordination of classic literature in this new curriculum. Thank you Dr. Ogden, for being the champion of the love of our beautiful language and the attempt to teach it to and preserve it for the next generation!
  13. Personally, I loved this article. I found it funny, informative and learned an awful lot. If the truth be known, I'm sure Dr. Ogden is made more fun of than his students! I have no doubt that he does not intentionally embarrass(however you spell that word, too lazy right now to look it up) his students. In contrast I would guess his class is a lot of fun! It would have been nice to read some of his own faux pas, but it's a short article and you can only have so much. Lets face it we have all had our share of laughter in whatever language or dialect or text message we speak. My goodness, comedians make a fortune of it! It's just good to know we can have that variety of "broken English" and also the more refined language where we need to take more care in saying what we mean, and meaning what we say when it comes to the more serious matters. But there definitely needs to be a balance. As in life or language I think that if we are not careful, we will get laxed and start settling for less than the best and to me that would be a detriment to society and sometimes we just need a reminder. It's not the attitude of being better than someone else, it's becoming the best person you can be. Thanks Dr. Ogden, looking forward to more of your articles.
  14. At last-- an article that raises the bar for excellence in verbal and written communication. I have been stunned to read very poor papers written by high school students.The sentence structure and spelling appears to be the work of a 4th grader. I have also heard adults make sarcastic comments about the "50-cent words" others use.The more we develop our vocabulary, the more accurately and clearly we can express ourselves.
  15. Dr. Ogden sounds like a very fun professor. No one should get angry over a teacher teaching us to improve. I would love to hear people correctly pronounce Doctrine and Covenants instead of Doctor and Cuvnunts. I would like to hear Joseph Smith pronounce clearly instead of a quick blur of the name that makes it sound like Josmith. I would love to be a part of refining my own speaking ability. Thank you for the great article.

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