Speaking of vain repetition

So in our Church we don't really memorize set prayers. The idea is that we should think about what we're saying and keep things simple and sincere. (Matthew 6:7)

Only here's the thing. We still totally do it the "vain repetition" thing--we just keep it to talks & testimonies most of the time.

All you LDS people how there, how many times in your life have you heard (or used) the following phrases?

for those of you who don't know me, my name is ________ -- Um, yeah, of course this is for the benefit of those who don't know you. Who else is it for? Your mom? Why not just say "Hello, my name is _____"?

the evils of pernography -- I am absolutely up for hearing about this. I just wish they would call it por-nography. "Pernography" makes me think of dirty mags that farmer boys read behind bales of hay.

I would be truly ungrateful if I didn't get up here today. . . -- I've decided I'm against the word truly. It just bothers me. Also, stop sniveling.

. . . with every fiber of my being -- Just. Don't. Don't say that.

We'd like to thank the priesthood . . . -- Actually, you would like to thank a group of young men who hold the priesthood. They themselves are not "the priesthood." Sorry, guys.

Not having grown up in 'the mission field' . . . -- Don't even get me started on the whole "mission field" thing, which is meant in Utah and Southern Idaho to refer to places that are not Utah and Southern Idaho. It implies that Utah and S.I. are not places where missionary work needs to be done, which is absolutely untrue.

I had the opportunity to . . . -- I imagine this is our way of trying to make everything seem like a positive learning experience, but it gets way out of hand. "I had the opportunity to go camping in Southern Utah." "I had the opportunity to get my first colonoscopy." Just say "I went," people.

If these individuals could please stand as their names are called -- What's up with calling everyone "individuals"? What about "people," "men," "women," "brothers," "sisters"? Why "individuals?"

I wonder if members of the Church in other parts of the world use the same phrases, just in translation--like did they pick it up from missionaries and others who grew up using them? Or do they have their own phrases that get trotted out over and over?

I realize that this happens for logical reasons. One might be that when we get up in front of a group of people we get nervous, and it's easier to grab for familiar, pre-approved phrases when we're under pressure. Also when you use them then everyone knows that you're a real Mormon and not an impostor who is about to betray himself by saying "people" instead of "individuals," which is when things get ugly and the sheep's blood comes out.

Only here's the thing: the talks and testimonies and speeches that get remembered are the ones that don't sound like everyone else's. I know I've tried over the past year or so to cut out those phrases and just keep it simple. I'm trying to really think about what I'm saying and how I'm saying it. Yes, it's more difficult, but I think it helps me to sort through my feelings and to be able to express them as they are, rather than as I've heard them expressed by other people hundreds of times before.

I left my list at home this morning so I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting. Anyone want to help me out and add to the list?


Cicada said... [reply]

I am pretty sure that there were translated vain repetitions in Italian, but I can't think of any right now...

I just like it when people get the vain repetitions wrong. I've already told you this, but recently a girl in church said, "with every being of my soul." Somehow, I don't think she quite got it right.

Dave said... [reply]

I love when people end a talk, blessing or their testimony with "...in the name of thy son..."
It's not just vain rep, it's like- way dumb. Like if i said, "Dear Heavenly bishop, here's my tithing envelope". What the crap, man.

kristen said... [reply]

'without a shadow of a doubt', which one should NEVER use. I've actually heard Priesthood leaders say this phrase is basically reserved for like the Twelve, who actually know 'without a shadow of a doubt'. I shudder when I hear that one.

I cringe with the whole mission field thing. I did NOT grow up in the mission field. The mission field is figurative, not literal. Nobody grows up in the mission field, unless he's been a missionary his whole life, which is impossible.

And dave.....so true. People just don't know what context to use certain things in, which is just sad.

Sherry said... [reply]

How abut "nourish and strengthen our bodies and give us the strength that we need."? Or using the word "moisture" instead of rain or snow. It's not moisture we're grateful for, it's rain!

My brother-in-law served a mission in Thailand, and he said you could tell when the people were taught to pray by missionaries because they would have really incorrect translations- like "nourish and strengthen our bodies"- but it didn't translate quite right. Anyway, the native speakers repeated the same language mistakes in their prayers that the missionaries made.

Usually Happy said... [reply]

My favorite is "Well, I'm a convert, so..."

I'm sick of people using that one in testimonies or in general conversation everytime they talk. At a Wendy's drive-up window "Well, I'm a convert, so I think I will biggie size that."

cooldad said... [reply]

Man, Nem, and those others who commented, you are harsh. Nitpicking the phrases and comments of those standing in front of large groups to speak. For many people, public speaking is an uncomfortable, if not terrifying experience. That they muster the courage to stand up and speak is a major accomplishment. Many of them, lacking experience will rely on other talks and phrases they've heard to help them through their talks. Give them a break why don't you and get over your own issues. Geez...

TheMoncurs said... [reply]

I once dated a guy who served a foreign mission speaking a somewhat difficult language. One time, some English speaking investigators came to the meeting and he translated the sacrament meeting talks for them. He said it went kind of like this:

"He says he's so thankful for prayer. He likes prayer a lot. He's glad God gave us prayer. He's really grateful for prayer. He uses prayer and thinks it's good."

He told me "I realized after that that these people never actually SAID anything." Their language gave them so many different ways to say something that they never really bothered to go beyond.

They're dealing with a whole other level of repetitions!

Nemesis said... [reply]

Dad, did I not say EXACTLY THAT when I talked about the reason why people do it? Geez yourself . . .

nomadic gnome said... [reply]

I was just talking about this last night with a friend. Funny part is when they mess up the Common Phrase. Friend said that someone said a prayer yesterday including this phrase:

We're thankful we could renew Thy covenants with Thee.

I think she didn't mean that she was glad everyone could help God renew His covenants with Himself. Or maybe she did and she's just crazy.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Okay, so to clarify to those who think I'm just being a nit-picking criticizer, this post is not about me trying to make fun of people who say the things I've listed. Because hi, I've said them too. They just seem like the thing to say and we get used to saying them.

What this post IS about is how now that I'm thinking about the things we say I realize that a lot of these expressions either

don't mean anything
are misleading
are unnecessarily wordy

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go kick puppies. And then eat them.

Squirrel Boy said... [reply]

I get what you're saying, Nemesis. There is a reason why we're told to avoid vain repetition. And even not-so-vain repetition isn't exactly great. I know that my own prayers feel a lot more sincere and meaningful when I stop using the same tired phrases that I always use and really think about what I'm saying.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Cicada, that's awesome.

Dave, yeah. I notice that one too.

"The mission field is figurative, not literal." Kristen, thank you for putting this so well!

Sherry, I've gotten better about "strengthen and nourish" but plead guilty to the moisture one. I think I'll just start saying precipitation instead. Because really, humidity counts as moisture and you'll never see me being grateful for that. (My skin and hair love it but they can just send up their OWN prayers.)

Happy, I haven't noticed this one as much but I can see why it would stick out more to you. And now I know what to say next time I'm at the Wendy's window . . .

Themoncurs, that's really interesting! I'm always curious to see how Church language/tradition/culture translates when it's taken to completely different places.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Nomadic, maybe they meant "The covenants You gave us?" Either way, it does lead to some interesting speculations . . .

SB, thank you. Also? I'm still pretty bad at that. My prayers need an overhaul, I think.

elasticwaistbandlady said... [reply]

Well, you're leaving out:

"My wife/husband and I met the usual way....at BYU. *giggle giggle*"

How many times in my life must I hear the train engineer-young son on the tracks when train rumbles through at midnight-father sacrifices son- Jesus allegory?
Ditto for the 'Just A Little Bit Of Poop In The Brownies' story, and the one of Big Jim who selflessly takes the whoopings for the boy who stole his lunch.

Really? Don't we have anything else out there than these same stories being trotted out endlessly? I've only been a member for 9 years and I can recite some of these by memory.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Elastic waistband, true point. Not to mention the bit where I think they've actually "recalled" that train tracks story on account of how it's not an accurate comparison--since the Savior consciously chose to sacrifice himself for us. Heavenly Father didn't make that choice for him.

I never hear anyone use the "we met the usual way" story. Probably because I'm in a USU singles ward. :-)

FoxyJ said... [reply]

Amen to everything people said. I really hate the word "moisture". It reminds me of an ad for maxi pads.

I also find it funny when people get confused with who they are talking to during baby blessings, or just when they confuse thee and thy and all that. I think what turns me off about a lot of these phrases is that they tend to make you look like you aren't thinking about what you're saying; instead, you're trying to just be pretentious sounding.

FoxyJ said... [reply]

I can always tell who learned Spanish as a missionary because they tend to use literally translated phrases in their prayers. I have the same bad habit too, but at least I'm aware of it. For example, it wasn't until grad school that I learned that the verb "to thank" in Spanish doesn't need the word for "for" after. The verb itself means "to thank someone for", so if you add "por" afterwards you just sound weird. Most native Spanish speakers that I know pray differently from returned missionaries (myself included in that). Even with a master's degree in the language it's hard to break bad habits.

Girassol said... [reply]

Foxyj, I am so glad you mentioned that about using "agradecer por." I went out with the missionaries to visit a Spanish family the other day and when they asked me to pray, I totally used that phrase like three times. I often screw up my gospel language in Spanish, due to serving a Portuguese-speaking mission and getting things mixed up between the two languages. In Portuguese, you HAVE to use "por" after the verb "agradecer."

Girassol said... [reply]

Everybody else, ditto. I hate the "moisture" thing and the "in the name of thy son" thing, too. I hear those a lot.

This is not exactly a vain repetition, but it is a major pet peeve of mine. Every time there is a lesson on prayer, someone will inevitably point out that we should use "thee," "thou," "thine," and so forth because they are formal language and therefore a sign of respect for Heavenly Father. That's completely untrue. Those terms are second-person, and represented a familiarity or intimacy with the person being addressed. Because they are now nearly obsolete in modern spoken English conversation, most people assume they are formal language. (Miss Nemesis, I'm sure you have studied this more than I have.)

People who have learned to pray in languages other than English are aware that these languages frequently use the familiar, or intimate language when addressing God in prayer. (In Spanish, for example, we use "tú" rather than "usted," and in Portuguese, "tu" rather than "você" or "o senhor.")

For me, this was a wonderful thing to learn, because it made me feel more connected to God in prayer. Yes, He's the highest power in the universe and deserves respect, but He is also my Father. He is someone to whom I should feel close enough to address with familiarity, someone I should trust enough to talk to about anything.

Mary said... [reply]

Yeah, i'm so tired of the word *opportunity*. So tired.

kristen said... [reply]

I wasn't sure if girassol is inferring that we eliminate certain words from our prayers. My first impression was that that is what she suggests. I disagree.

We use "thee, thou, and thine" because it shows respect. Many of the prophets' prayers that have been recorded use this language; the Savior used this language; and we are instructed to use it.

The special language of prayer differs in different languages, varying according to the nature of that language.

BEFore said... [reply]


I think Girassol was referring to the origins of the "thee, thine, thou, etc" verb forms. They were originally terms of familiarity (hence the comparison to the Spanish "tu"). Nowadays we generally equate them with formality rather then familiar reverence. It does tend to give a different feeling to things. On the other hand, it reminds us that a prayer is something we think about more then our usual conversations.

Lindsay said... [reply]

I'm curious about the phrase "our daily lives." Why state that they are daily? Don't we already know that?

Th. said... [reply]


Um, Kristen--are you joking? Jesus didn't say thou.

And amen, Nem, to the bit about, when you don't use canned phrases, people actually listening and remembering. For those of you looking for an ego trip, next time you speak in church try speaking in a totally different tone with a totally different vocabulary and I guarantee people will come up and tell you it's the best talk they've ever heard. I've started talks with fairy tales, claimed to be channeling Alma and then reading Alma 5, etc. None of which makes me smart or clever, but which made people listen. And I would say that was part of my job: to be worth listening to.

kristen said... [reply]

If she was referring to the origin than I'm not going to argue that. I couldn't quite tell if it was that plus the proper use of those words (i.e. not needing to use them). If I misunderstood, my bad.

And um, th--check out The Lord's prayer, the Intercessory Prayer, and a prayer with the Nephites (3 Ne 19:20-21)

Nemesis said... [reply]

I know, Foxyj. I hate the word "moisture" too. Which just goes to show how programmed I was that I kept using it anyway . . .

Girassol, I'm completely with you on the thee/thou/thine thing. It's fun (for gee--I mean, for cool people like us) to watch the way the English language changes. And so I'm going to try to be better about remembering when I pray that thee, etc. was originally meant to indicate a special, close relationship.

Mary, I know. Oh, I know.

Before, Kristen, & Girassol, I'm glad everyone's friends again. ;-)

Yes, Lindsay! Also when people tack on "in my life" at the end of everything. "It's been a hard week for me, in my life." Same principle--who else's life could you be experiencing?

Th, please remind me to come watch you speak in church sometime. I imagine it's quite the experience :-)

Squirrel Boy said... [reply]

Kristen: Th's point is that Jesus didn't speak English, so he never said the word "thou." That's just a word that was used to translate whatever was used in the original Greek text. Not that Jesus spoke Greek, either.

Th. said... [reply]



Girassol said... [reply]

Thanks to those who correctly interpreted what I was trying to say and stuck up for me while I was off doing non-Internet things! I was indeed talking about the origin of "thee," "thou," "thine," etc. My point was that the terms were originally terms used to indicate familiarity, NOT formality. Therefore, to say that we use them in prayer because they're "formal" is untrue. My point was NOT that we shouldn't use them. Rather, I find praying to be a more meaningful experience now that I know what the terms truly indicate. Thinking about the meaning of the words I'm using has just been another way to get more out of my prayers.

Sorry if that wasn't clear, Kristen. As much of a language nerd as I am, I often find it hard to clearly express what I'm saying!

N.F. said... [reply]

Ditto Dave. ROCK on so completely! And, another pet peeve of mine is, "Please bless that we'll all get home in safety..."

Nemesis said... [reply]

Aw, look at everyone playing nice.

NF, I never thought of that one before but you're right! Why do we say that?

blackjazz said... [reply]

Slightly off topic, and I know I'm getting into this rather late, but I'd like to add a few phrases that are said wrongly because of... well, you decide...

1. a nim book = a hymn book
2. Marty Narris = Martin Harris
3. Melchezidick = Melchizedek
4. Ladder-day Saint = Latter-day Saint

(Pres. Hinckley, if you're a regular but silent reader of this blog please forgive me for mentioning no. 4 because I know even you have this problem and I promise in the future to try not to notice.)

So, let's finish off by singing
"We thank thee, oh God, for a profit"
(which gives an entirely new and interesting meaning to the title of that hymn!)

Nemesis said... [reply]

Blackjazz, I love yours. I had to say #1 and #2 out loud before I got what you meant, and then I laughed real hard.

As for #3, I've also heard it called "Melchelzedik"

And I can't believe none of us remembered "patriartichal" instead of "patriarchal!"

If President Hinckley is a regular but silent reader to this blog then I really need to clean this thing up! I hope he takes into account all the nice things I've said about him . . .

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