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on choosing our words wisely.

May 24, 2012

A few weeks ago I wrote a paper for my linguistics class on Christianese.

Christianese is the jargon (“specialized language”) used by Christians. I’m sure you’re all somewhat familiar with it, even if you don’t realize it. Some examples would be to ask someone if they are “saved,” to talk about your “missional community,” or to tell someone that what they said in Bible study was a “good word.” I know this is an interesting topic to a lot of people, considering that my post on sh*t Christian girls say is one of my most popular posts ever.

I’m totally down for speaking in Christianese, to some extent. In fact, you can read some past blog entries of mine where I talk about being “blessed,” “the Lord,” or “bringing Kingdom.” I’m not saying it’s all bad. I am saying, however, that I made some disconcerting observations throughout my research for this paper.

In general, I found that the defining characteristic of Christianese is indirectness. Euphemisms abound (the enemy instead of Satan, struggles instead of sins, Harvest Festival instead of Halloween…), as well as justifying statements and avoidance. I’ve heard people say that the Lord told them to do something (which they may well believe), but I think it can also be abused to justify behavior that is called into question. Again, I know there are people who are genuine, but I think we (myself included!!) need to be careful about what we attribute to God or to Scripture. Another one I found was that someone might say that something is not their calling to avoid doing something (“I just don’t really have a heart for the poor…that’s not my calling!”). Or they might tell someone, “I’ll pray for you” instead of lending a hand of practical help.

I chose this topic because it was interesting and familiar to me. I never thought, however, that it would become so personally impactful. Throughout the weeks that I was working on the paper, my senses were heightened to my own usage of Christianese as well as others. Not only Christianese, though, I was more aware of all the words that I used in general. I started analyzing how I talked, why I talked, what I said, the impact that it had on others…and sometimes it was scary. The Bible talks a lot about the power of words, and I was reminded of that all over again. I want to be completely genuine and to recognize the power of life or death that I carry around with me.

A few people mentioned that they would be interested in reading my paper, and I’m posting it here with a few disclaimers:
1) I wrote this paper from an unbiased view, as a “researcher”, not as a Christian. Therefore, I tried to not insert my opinions or to justify why Christians speak this way. That’s kind of why I wrote this blog, because the paper lead me to some interesting conclusions for Christians, but that wasn’t the audience of my paper, so I didn’t write it there.
2) One of the websites that I cited is called “Baptized in Bull****.” Hope you’re not offended by seeing that word in my paper.
3) The paper is pretty long…fair warning. I wouldn’t be offended if you didn’t read the whole thing.

Without further ado…my Christianese paper!

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I would love to hear your comments on this subject, so jump right in! See that little comment box just beckoning you to fill it with your thoughts?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2012 12:28 pm

    What a great paper, Chelsea! It’s hilarious because as I sit here reading this I, 1) am a Christian, 2) graduated from a Christian University, 3) work at said University…. and I had said or heard a LOT of those phrases or allusions today or recently.

    I think your paper is dead on! I wouldn’t say I was ‘offended’ by it… I just don’t completely agree with Cho’s stance on Christians just saying things to sound superior in groups, etc. BUT! I do agree and see the stance that Christians use Christianese in social circles to ‘fit in’ per say… I mean, if you are a new Christian, and you learn these words, and then you start using them it feels great to see others like you agreeing and knowing what you are saying. I mean, that was how it was when I first became a Christian… or really chose to live that lifestyle to the ‘fullest’. When leaving Toledo and coming to OCU where I graduated, I definitely felt like the odd man out for some reason.. looking back, it definitely could have been that I wasn’t using the right jargon or something. I think it’s even more interesting to look at the various Christian belief groups: Wesleyans, Baptists, Anglicans, etc. and see the various “Christianese” among those groups.

    This paper was great! It made me rethink a LOT of things I say and what others say as well.. It’s so funny to see how quickly such allusions and phrases are picked up and then used. Even at youth group, my husband teaches them and does a ‘sword drill’. The kids in our youth group do not come from a family/home of Christians and were completely confused by the statement. Now they have learned it and use it often.

    Good read and a great way to get us thinking!!!

    • May 24, 2012 4:16 pm

      I appreciate your comment, Jo! It is really interesting to think about it. And yeah, Cho took a little bit of a negative stance, but definitely I can see someone sticking out like a sore thumb when not using Christianese in certain circles. An aspect of Christianese could even be not cussing, you know? So if someone does cuss, then maybe Christians would feel superior? Just a thought!

      • May 24, 2012 7:16 pm

        Ooo good point! Ah! There are so many dimensions to this. Such a good topic.. I am going to be thinking about this more

  2. Anna Notario permalink
    May 24, 2012 7:05 pm

    I have a friend that is currently writing ” A Dictionary of Christianese.” It’s currently a blog:
    http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/2012/05/17/christianese/

    His latest post is defining christianese.

    It’s quite insightful. I just learned that “Jerusalem Slim” and “Nazareth Blacky” are both tramp-style nicknames for Jesus.

    In Jerusalem Slim’s name, Amen.

  3. May 25, 2012 3:59 pm

    Really interesting paper, Chelsea! I’m not terribly religious, but this was pretty insightful from a language standpoint… super accessible.

    [One thing I did see is (p. 4, second from last paragraph, last sentence) there is a letter missing on the word “has.” I assume this has already been turned in, though. I’m paid to notice these things, sorry!]

    • May 25, 2012 4:59 pm

      Thanks, Ali! Haha and bummer about my typo. I guess I don’t pay my personal editor enough. ;)

  4. May 26, 2012 10:51 pm

    this is pretty personal, but whatever…when talking about depression/anxiety, i’ve been asked if i’m “taking my thoughts captive.” everything in me wanted to yell, “no but i think zoloft will help me do that!” instead i just bit my lip (literally) to keep myself from crying and wondering why i’m such a bad christian who can’t keep her thoughts in check. this was really good. i liked the objective perspective. and i also agree with the dude who said sometimes we use it to sound better than someone else. maybe not intentionally, but that’s what it comes off as…also, at the beginning of the world race i swore i would never use christianese and started making fun of PTL. by the end of the trip my making fun of tactic turned into my saying PTL at home in a serious way…and a couple of friends and my sister were all like…huh? what does that mean?

    • June 1, 2012 8:21 am

      you’re cool. thanks for sharing. i totally agree. i think God works through modern medicine, as well. the whole “pray for healing of cancer” but what if God wants to use chemo to heal someone? that’s legit too.

      • June 1, 2012 8:22 am

        oh and also, i heard this girl at biola university say “TYJ” it’s like the new PTL…it means “Thank You Jesus.” loool

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