Poring over archived Mormon missionary blogs, Kjerste Christensen seemingly stumbled on tales of murder, accelerated aging, pending deaths, pregnancy and unexpected parenthood.
Well, not really. But without her explanations about unique LDS metaphors, you might be forgiven a frantic parental call to your ward bishop or at least a furrowed brow.
“There are a lot of ... metaphors and terms in the Mormon community, but I’m specifically looking at a small set of terms that Mormon missionaries use,” says Christensen, a Brigham Young University catalog librarian specializing in 21st-century Mormonism and Western Americana.
She will share her findings during a 10:30 a.m. to noon panel discussion Saturday at the American Dialect Society’s annual conference, being held this year at the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.
But back to that ersatz evidence of mission mayhem Christensen mined from the digital archives of BYU’s Harold B. Library in 2013.
“At one point, I came across a missionary who casually mentioned he was ‘dying’ soon,” she recalls. “Later, I came across other missionaries ... referring to having a ‘funeral’ or going to the ‘afterlife’ or ‘killing’ a companion.”
Delving deeper into the comments’ context, Christensen determined, no doubt with some relief, that the terms were at “the core of a newly created conceptual metaphor.
“Dying,” it turned out, is slang missionaries use for going home at the completion of their proselytizing assignments for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A final meeting between missionaries heading home was a “funeral,” and if you were a departing missionary’s last companion, you were also his or her “killer.”
“For transfers, I am dying here in Krefeld and Elder Guin is gonna kill me, so all in all, it is good,” a missionary in the Germany remarked in one post retrieved by Christensen.
Added a Guatemala missionary: “So now my companion is going home with his group . . . that will be my third companion in a row I will have killed!”
More experienced missionaries who train new arrivals become their “father” or “mother.” If a missionary’s training is left incomplete by his or her “parent’s” departure, a “stepmom” or “stepdad” is appointed to finish the preparation.
Did you just learn of an assignment to train a new mission field arrival? Congratulations: You’re “pregnant.”
“I’m training, and thus I’m pregnant. Again,” one male missionary in Paris posted.
It can get more complicated, as implied by a Santa Rosa, Calif., missionary: “Killing a companion and a pregnancy.”
Then there’s missionary aging, which has nothing to do with one’s birthdate and everything to do with “the number of transfers” or reassignments.
“I don’t know if they did this [in] other missions, but they always have all the old dying missionaries and the newbies share their testimonies,” a missionary in Chile noted.
Finally, once you’re “dead” you’re dead, right? Not on a Mormon mission.
As missionary mused that, while in South Korea, “there is no rule against dead missionaries calling the mission phones, but that’s only because there’s no way Prez [a mission president] can enforce the rules on those already dead.”
Other panel members will include the moderator, Arkansas Tech University professor Arwen Taylor; David Bowie, an associate professor of Linguistics from the University of Alaska-Anchorage; and Utah Valley University professor Boyd J. Petersen.