Language Corner

Latter-day Saints move to remove ‘Mormon’ from lexicon

April 15, 2019

For the past two weeks, we have been highlighting major changes in Associated Press style, as announced at the annual conference of ACES: The Society for Editing.

This last roundup will include some smaller changes that might still have big impacts.

The first concerns the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No longer should the church or its followers be called “Mormon” by default, both the church and AP say. No longer should the initials “LDS” be used to refer to the church.

Instead, the full name of the church should be used on first reference, the AP says, with “the church,” “church members,” or “members of the faith” used in latter, er, later references. Its members can be called “Latter-day Saints.” (Note the hyphen and lack of capitalization.)

You can take the “Mormon” out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but you can’t take the “Mormon” out of the church. After all, its principal document is the “Book of Mormon.” And the AP allows that, “When necessary for space or clarity or in quotations or proper names,  Mormon Mormons, and Latter-day Saints are acceptable.” That means that breaking the “Mormon” habit might be hard.

The changes result from the church’s effectively rebranding itself, though its president insists it is not a “renaming,” “rebranding,” or “cosmetic change.” “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the name of the Church Latter-day Saints believe came by revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself,” the church said in a news release in March. “More than getting the name right as an institution, the invitation to use the full name of the Church is an opportunity for Latter-day Saints to refocus their lives on the living Christ.”

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To emphasize this change, the websites (for members of the church) and (for nonmembers) will eventually be absorbed by Already, the “Mormon Tabernacle Choir” has become simply the “Tabernacle Choir,” though it still shows up in searches with “Mormon” attached.

Reclaiming its original name also allows the church to stop using names that others had given it. “Since the first year of the Church’s founding, critics and others have sought to call the Church and its followers by other names—names Latter-day Saints used out of convenience at first but then came to embrace themselves,” the church’s release said. The president’s letter expounded on that: “In the early days of the restored Church, terms such as Mormon Church and Mormons were often used as epithets—as cruel terms, abusive terms.

In this way, the church is joining the tendency for groups to claim their own names rather than the names others people give them, as we have seen with “African American” (instead of “colored,” or “Negro,” or worse), “Latino” (instead of “Hispanic” or “Spanish”), and others.

That goal to “reemphasize” Christ in the church brings us to the next AP style change: no longer will hyphens be required in words with the letter “e” doubled in them.

Until recently, AP style called for hyphens in words with duplicated vowels or tripled consonants, like “anti-intellectual,” “pre-empt,” and “shell-like.”

Now, the advice is to not hyphenate most words with the prefixes “pre-” or “re-.” That gives us “preeclampsia,” “preexisting,” “reelect,” and “reenter,” among other words. The stylebook calls this a “recognition of common usage and dictionary preferences,” which doesn’t help them look any less weird to some people. (The New Yorker solves this problem the old-fashioned way, by using the diëresis, as in “reënter.”) This is in keeping with the lack of hyphenation for other “pre-” and “re-” words.

But (isn’t there always?), the AP still wants hyphens in what it calls “hyphenated coinage,” like “pre-convention” and “pre-noon.” And it’s still “anti-intellectual” and “shell-like.”

AP has traditionally been less hyphen-happy than other style guides, and in line with that, it is dropping the hyphen in “passerby.” This one confounded many journalists, who often left the hyphen out of the singular but put it in the plural, “passers-by” (or occasionally wrote “passerbys”). Now, they can pass both those hyphens by, since the plural is “passersby.”

And last, the AP updated its discussion of medical marijuana. In its detailed discussion of “cannabidiol,” “THC,” and the like, it added a new term: “budtender.” But not just anyone growing cannabis is one: The term is reserved for “an employee of a dispensary who interacts with and sells products to customers.”

Don’t “bogart” that term, though: “The term is acceptable in limited uses, such as quotes or colloquial references; often terms like employee, worker or staff member will suffice.”

Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at the New York Times, where she worked for twenty-five years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.