Books and Mormons

Whenever I meet someone who is adamant that the pluralization for “The Book of Mormon” is “The Books of Mormon,” I cringe a little inside. It can be a perfect storm of smug self-righteousness and grammatical sloppiness/ignorance.

If you aren’t a long-time Mormon, this introduction probably doesn’t make sense. There has been a silent war within our culture about the pluralization for “The Book of Mormon,” the keystone piece of devotional scripture and literature within the Mormon tradition. The often used quick-fix is to just slap an “s” at the end, such as “I just got a shipment of fifty Book of Mormons.” However, there is now a very vocal minority who demands that we atone for our past mistakes and realize the error of our ways. “Book of Mormons” isn’t grammatically correct at all! Obviously, the correct way to pluralize The Book of Mormon is by saying “Books of Mormon.”

The problem is, that way is wrong, too.

The main mistake in pluralizing The Book of Mormon into The Books of Mormon is treating “The Book of Mormon” as a phrase, not as a single unit of information. The Book of Mormon is a title, and thus a proper noun. This method of pluralizing the main noun in a phrase that has become a proper noun does not carry over in other instances. For example, if I meet five different people at a convention dressed up as Harry Potter, I wouldn’t say that I met five Harries Potter. For another example, if I have two copies of The Game of Thrones, and I wrote on my English paper that, on my bookshelf, there sits two Games of Thrones, my professor will probably laugh and then let loose yon red ink pen. To take an even more famous fantasy novel example, hopefully nobody will ever say “At my house, we love Tolkien! In fact, we have seven Lords of the Rings!” After all, there is only one Lord of the Rings, and he does not share power, nor does he approve of erroneous pluralization.

A caveat — should you be referring to simply a general collection of books that Mormon wrote/edited, and not The Book of Mormon itself, then the “books of Mormon” pluralization works. However, I would venture to guess that 99.99% of the time, when Mormons say Books of Mormon, they are not talking of a general collection of individual books that Mormon can take creative ownership or credit for, but The Book of Mormon. And so, pluralizing a proper noun in such a way is erroneous and misleading.

The proper way to pluralize The Book of Mormon because it can be such a confusing proper noun to pluralize would be to write or say “copies of The Book of Mormon.” This is, in fact, how we pluralize most titles. If, for example, you are buying some copies of The Scream to pass out to your children for whatever reason, you will probably go to the store and ask the clerk, “I need two copies/prints/whatevers of The Scream.”

The really big irony is that the original pluralization, while not totally correct, is passable, understandable, and acceptable in everyday vernacular English. If you went to the store, you could say, “I need to buy five The Screams,” and the clerk will probably understand you okay (You could probably even drop “The” before “Scream” and still make some sense). If you tell your friends, “At the convention, I saw five Harry Potters,” your friends will probably ask for pictures instead of adjusting their glasses and saying, “Excuse me, you mean five Harry Potter impersonators,” or worse, “Excuse me? You mean five Harries Potter.”

The very concept of a proper noun is to insinuate that there is only one of these proper nouns, and if there are multiple versions of these proper nouns, that these proper nouns are at least some kind of important thing. For example, we say The White House, not because it is the only house painted white in the world, but because it is a very important house painted white. The name Kate Middleton is certainly not unique to just one person, but it is an important aspect of some people, a vital part of their identity. Thusly, we refer to a collection of scripture as “The Book of Mormon” to designate that this collection is very specific and important. That way, we don’t have to say, “Did you pick up that crate of fifty copies of a collection of texts including writings written by Nephi, Alma, Abinadi, Mormon, Moroni, et al, edited and compiled by Mormon?” We have assigned a title to that. Instead we say, “Did you get your fifty copies of The Book of Mormon?” or, if you’re feeling kind of lazy or hurried, “Did you get your fifty Book of Mormons?”

So people who say Book of Mormons, the next time someone tries to correct you, shrug it off. You are more right than they are, and hopefully we can quell this budding grammatical apostasy out of love, compassion, and persuasion, not through more harsh words and smug condescension.

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2 Comments

Filed under education, religion, wordsmithing

2 responses to “Books and Mormons

  1. dteeps

    I wholeheartedly agree. I think the problem is that, as a society, we have this belief that ‘proper’ grammar is very important, yet very few people know or understand all of the rules of ‘proper’ grammar.

    For example, so many people are taught that you don’t use the phrase, “Joe and me”, which you shouldn’t when saying something like “Joe and me went to the store”, but is actually correct when saying, “They gave the money to Joe and me.”

    Or the words “myself” and “yourself”, instead of “me” and “you.” It really bothers me when people say, “You can talk to either Joe or myself.” Myself is reflexive, I can wash myself, I can drive myself somewhere, and I can talk to myself, but you cannot talk to myself — you can talk to me.

    So, people really want to sound correct, but don’t know what correct is, so they grasp so tightly to misconstrued and misunderstood principles of grammar and us them inappropriately.

    • Ted

      Yes. If you’re going to be a proper grammar Nazi, you must first know your grammar.

      Personally, I’ve mellowed out a lot when it comes to correct grammar and all that controversy, so now, it bothers me more when someone incorrectly corrects grammar than someone who uses incorrect grammar in the first place.

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