Zelophehad’s Daughters

A Post by Ziff, Even a Guy Who Likes Numbers

Posted by Ziff

In Mark Brown’s post “Mormon Buzzwords” (“on words and phrases we don’t need”) at BCC last month, a number of people suggested that our frequent use of appositive phrases beginning with “even” used to describe Jesus or the prophet is particularly annoying. Here’s an example from President Uchtdorf’s otherwise excellent talk “We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down,” given in April 2009 Conferece:

I have witnessed with my own eyes and joyfully testify that in our day, God speaks through His prophet, seer, and revelator, even Thomas S. Monson.

So who started this usage of “even”? And who’s perpetuating it among current General Authorities?

Scriptures

I began trying to answer these questions by searching General Conference talks (using the wonderfully helpful LDS Scripture Citation Index) for the phrase “even Jesus.” I quickly ran into something unexpected: appositive phrases beginning with “even” (hereafter, APEs) appear in our scriptures. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t. I had thought it must be a recent trend. Anyway, here are a couple of examples:

And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (Acts 9:17)

Be faithful unto the end, and lo, I am with you. These words are not of man nor of men, but of me, even Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, by the will of the Father. Amen. (D&C 31:13)

So I went back and searched the scriptures for the phrase “even Jesus.” This turned up 21 matches. What’s particularly interesting is their distribution in the Standard Works0:

Old Testament 0
New Testament 4
Book of Mormon 1
Doctrine and Covenants 14
Pearl of Great Price 2

Seventeen of the 21 come from uniquely Mormon scriptures. So although APEs appear in the New Testament a few times (in the KJV–I didn’t look at other versions) it looks like this might be a phrasing Joseph Smith might have particularly liked, since all the other matches are in scriptures that came to us through him.

General Conference

But there are a lot of APEs in General Conference talks that are not just quotes of these 21 scriptures. Returning to my original search of Conference talks, I looked at Conference talks from 1942 (as far back as the LDS Scripture Citation Index goes) to 2010 for the phrase “even Jesus.” To find references to prophets (like in the quote from President Uchtdorf above), I searched for the phrase “even President” and also for “even [first name],” inserting the first name of every latter-day prophet in turn. I also searched for “even” attached to the names of a few ancient prophets1 to see if anything would show up.

The oldest match I found for “even Jesus” was in a talk given by Milton R. Hunter in April, 1952:

The Fall came about; thus [Adam and Eve] became mortal beings. A veil was drawn over their minds, and they forgot their pre-mortal existence and the gospel by which they had previously lived in the spirit world. It was necessary, therefore, for Jehovah, even Jesus Christ, to reveal to them the gospel plan.

The oldest match I found for “even” and a prophet’s name was in a talk given by Joseph L. Wirthlin in April, 1959:

The Prophet had borne his testimony of the existence of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, for he saw them and lost his life for bearing this testimony; but another new prophet was selected, even Brigham Young, who led the membership of the Church in making the long trip across the plains to the area of these mountains where the Church is now located and where we, its membership, have the privilege of dwelling.

These are a long time after the beginning of the search period (1942), which suggests that APEs certainly weren’t common at the time, or likely in the time immediately before. Of course, it would be pure speculation to assume this went very far back without actually searching, but I would be surprised if, for example, GAs were using APEs in Conference talks a lot in 1941 and then suddenly quit in 1942.

Okay, that’s who said it the earliest. Who has used APEs the most? Here are results for “even Jesus.” (Note that I excluded talks that only quoted a scripture that says “even Jesus” and talks that did not use the words in an appositive phrase.) Everyone who used “even Jesus” in two or fewer talks is lumped together.

Name Talks with “even Jesus”
Thomas S. Monson 22
L. Tom Perry 9
Neal A. Maxwell 8
Ezra Taft Benson 4
Gordon B. Hinckely 3
James E. Faust 3
All others 32
Total 81

This usage is clearly a favorite of President Monson’s. He accounts for over a quarter of all talks using APEs with “Jesus.” One approach here might be to look at the proportion of his talks in which the speaker used APEs with “Jesus” rather than the total number. This would adjust for the fact that President Monson has given far more Conference talks (since he’s been in the First Presidency so long) than has Elder Perry. I chose not to go this route because I was interested in who was most influential in keeping APEs alive rather than who used it most on a per-talk basis.

Here are results for “even [prophet’s name].” (I again excluded talks where the phrase wasn’t an appositive.)

Name Talks with “even [prophet]”
Thomas S. Monson 21
N. Eldon Tanner 6
Dieter F. Uchtdorf 3
All others 16
Total 52

President Monson dominates this list even more than the previous one, accounting for over 40% of talks that use APEs with prophets’ names. Taking these two tables together, it seems clear that it’s primarily President Monson who has perpetuated the use of the APE. In fact, he’s used APEs not only to refer to Jesus and to prophets, but to all kinds of things. In a 1972 Conference talk titled “Hands,” he used by my count nine appositive phrases, including three referring to prophets and two to Jesus, but four others referring to other things and people.

Another list that might be interesting is to count up who speakers are talking about when they use an APE. Note that the total in this table is higher than the total in the previous table because in a few talks (like then-Elder Monson’s “Hands”) the speaker referred to more than one prophet using an APE.

Name Times referred to with an APE
Gordon B. Hinckley 16
Spencer W. Kimball 15
Joseph Smith 6
Ezra Taft Benson 5
Harold B. Lee 4
All others 11
Total 57

It’s not surprising, I guess, that President Hinckley would top the list given that he served so long with President Monson as his first counselor. I was surprised to see President Kimball  at such a close #2, though. It appears that he got a bump from having N. Eldon Tanner serve as his first counselor.

One last issue I haven’t dealt with is change over time. Are APEs on the rise or the decline? In the figure below I’ve plotted counts of Conference talks in which a speaker used an APE in referring to Jesus or to a prophet. I’ve separated out President Monson since he’s the top user of APEs and lumped everyone else together to avoid making the figure too difficult to look at. I’ve also collapsed counts into five-year intervals to make the numbers big enough to be even worth plotting.

Note that the data are stacked, meaning that other than the bottom series (all others — “even Jesus”), the number of talks each point represents is its value on the vertical axis minus the value for the next lowest series. So, for example, at the far right, the top series (President Monson — “even [prophet]”) is at 11. This doesn’t mean he gave 11 talks using APEs referring to prophets, but that he gave 1, since the value for the next series down (all others — “even [prophet]”) is 10. Really, this makes it sound more complicated than it really is. If you look at the figure, I think you’ll be able to figure it out2.

So for everyone who complained on Mark’s thread, there clearly is something to complain about, as the use of APEs increased dramatically between the early 1980s and early 2000s. On the bright side, though, the drop between  2001-2005 and 2006-2010 has been quite dramatic. I suspect that the number one reason is that President Monson has taken over as President of the Church and it would sound silly for him to refer to himself using an APE.

__________
0Here’s the complete list: Acts 9:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Hebrews 6:20, 1 John 5:6, Ether 12:22, D&C 31:13, D&C 34:1, D&C 38:1, D&C 39:1, D&C 42:1, D&C 62:1, D&C 63:60, D&C 66:13, D&C 68:6, D&C 76:41, D&C 79:4, D&C 80:5, D&C 81:7, D&C 95:17, Moses 6:57, Moses 7:50. (Footnote numbering beginning with 0 is for Cynthia L.)

1This is the list of ancient prophets I searched for: Adam, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John (the Baptist or the Revelator), Peter, Paul, Lehi, Nephi, Alma, Heleman, Mormon, and Moroni.

2This figure double counts three talks, all by President Monson, in which he used an APE to refer to Jesus and another to refer to a prophet.

26 Responses to “A Post by Ziff, Even a Guy Who Likes Numbers”

  1. 1.

    Wow, really great analysis. I didn’t *even* notice that even was being used in such funny ways. It’s always good to see some numbers as data is so helpful. I found it interesting that D&C takes the cake for the standard works, but I’m not surprised.

  2. 2.

    Another magnificent study! Who else even (that word again) has your ideas, much less the chops to follow through with an analysis?

  3. 3.

    I love me a good Ziff post in my reader. Very interesting.

  4. 4.

    That BCC post was disheartening for me. Maybe I am too much of a linguist, but it sounded so much like the rants of English-only advocates. I wish there was greater acceptance in the Bloggernacle for cherishing and preserving Mormon American English.

    I am doubtful you would find the noun “Jesus” in the Old Testament. When I did a quick search for “even the Lord” and “even [thy/my/(null)] God,” these appositives showed up more frequently in the Bible than in Mormon scripture.

    It comes as no surprise to me that Pres. Monson showed up with the highest use of “even [Jesus/prophet].” He probably does the best job among the brethren of keeping alive the idioms and metaphors of the Latter-day Saints.

  5. 5.

    What a blessing it truly is to sit at the feet of our inspired number-cruncher, even Ziff Zelopehad, and have the msyteries of the bloggernacle opened to us.

    Well done ZIff, thou good and faithful blogger. Just don’t lead us astray or do anything inappropriate.

  6. 6.

    Sweet analysis, Ziff. I always enjoy a good statistical analysis – it often brings out unexpected trends that are neither intuitive nor obvious. Thanks for doing the legwork!

  7. 7.

    I was curious how this APE would have been reflected in the Greek text of Acts 9:17, so I just now took a look. It’s not actually present in the Greek, which reads simply “the Lord Jesus.” The APE is created in the KJV, which added the word even in italics (indicating there was no corresponding word in Greek). I’m guessing that the KJV translators did that because the word Jesus is separated by a couple of words from “the Lord,” but that’s a total guess.

  8. 8.

    I think it’s just dialectical. The US is a big country; English is even a bigger language. There are local variations.

  9. 9.

    #7- No surprise that Its not in the NRSV of Acts either.

    A very brief look suggests that the phrase “even Jesus” does not appear at all in the NRSV.

  10. 10.

    A quick search for appositive “even (the/my/our/null) God”
    Old Testament: 6
    New Testament: 2
    Book of Mormon: 2
    Doctrine and Covenants: 2

    A quick search for appositive “even the Lord”
    Old Testament: 8
    New Testament: 0
    Book of Mormon: 1
    Doctrine and Covenants: 1

  11. 11.

    Cool post, Ziff!

    What happened between ’71 and ’85? No one was talking about Jesus in GC??

  12. 12.

    Too bad you can’t get the text for the invocations and benedictions for GC…the true count of APEs would skyrocket, and I would guess that most common use of APEs has its root in hearing such prayers.

  13. 13.

    Too bad you can’t do a search of closing and opening prayers… just think how big THAT number would be.

  14. 14.

    Rrgh, that’s what I get for not reading all the way to the bottom. D’oh!

  15. 15.

    Excellent discussion, but I have one quibble with the title. Isn’t it supposed to go in the order “description, even name”? That is, shouldn’t your title be,

    “A post by our beloved statistician, even Ziff . . . ”

    Ooh. That zings. :)

  16. 16.

    I couldn’t read this without thinking about evolving language and monkeys and copying the alpha male in the group. And it’s really too bad (or good, depending on your POV) that prayers aren’t included in the conference reports, as others have noted.

  17. 17.

    This is pure glorious nerdiness.

  18. 18.

    Another awesome contribution to nacleknowledge from our favorite statistician, even Ziff Zelophehad

  19. 19.

    I love it! I’m so glad you find time to do these analyses.

  20. 20.

    So funny. I love it.

  21. 21.

    Ohmygosh. I think I’m in love with you, Ziff!

  22. 22.

    Thanks for all your comments!

    Thanks, Sterling and mb, for searching for the alternatives. The “even God” alternative occurred to me when I was almost done with the post–the D&C 19:18 reference is quite well known:

    Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

    But I was just too lazy to include it. ;)

    Thanks, Kevin and Douglas, for checking the Bible in other translations and the Greek. I noticed that “even” was an italicized (added) word in the Biblical references. But I guess that must be where Joseph Smith got the phrasing, right, since he read the KJV? Of course now that I think about it, there could have been many other people who could have in person or in writing transmitted the phrasing to him. I don’t know.

    And great point about the prayers, Scott B. Syphax, and LRC. I should look and see if those are included in the video streams. I could check them for at least a few years.

  23. 23.

    Sterling #4:

    That BCC post was disheartening for me. Maybe I am too much of a linguist, but it sounded so much like the rants of English-only advocates. I wish there was greater acceptance in the Bloggernacle for cherishing and preserving Mormon American English.

    Thanks for explaining; I hadn’t thought about it this way before. I can’t speak for everyone on the BCC thread, but I wonder if the little oddities of Mormon American English aren’t found annoying because (1) when they get popular, they get repeated so much, and (2) they seem to be used differentially by people who seem like they’re full of themselves. Sorry. I know that makes me sound like a jerk, but when someone uses an “even Jesus Christ” appositive phrase in a talk in my ward, I suspect they’re bucking for promotion to GA.

    Enna (#11):

    What happened between ‘71 and ‘85? No one was talking about Jesus in GC??

    I’m not sure. I think President Monson backed off on his use of APEs after he used them so much at the beginning, and if he was driving the trend perhaps others followed his lead. I’m not at all sure, though.

    Kaimi (#15), darn it, you’ve got me! I’m completely backwards. Clearly I wasn’t paying very close attention to anything but the counts.

  24. 24.

    I love your posts, Ziff. It’s so fun to look at numbers.

  25. 25.

    I couldn’t read this without thinking about evolving language and monkeys and copying the alpha male in the group.

    LOL. I spend a lot of time in corporate America, and I see this stuff all the time. It is absolutely connected to male social hierarchies.

    However, the particular construction mentioned in this post is the special category I call pompous pseudoarchaic. It’s designed to add gravitas to any utterance. It’s the voice of God in the filmstrip; however, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what what makes us think that the Almighty, who created heaven and earth, doesn’t know how to use contractions.

  26. 26.

    You are even a guy who likes numbers, but are you a guy who likes even numbers??

    (har! I crack me up.)

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