Orson Scott Card

How This Book Came to Be

[pages not numbered]In 1913, American writer Ambrose Bierce, well known for bitter cynicism and a mordant wit. Journeyed into Mexico and was never heard from again. His disappearance has been blamed on everything from banditti to UFOs, but now it is time for the truth to be revealed. He disappeared in 1913. Sixty-seven years later, I was out in my backyard in Orem, Utah, moving rocks—the major crop of my garden that year—when suddenly Ambrose Bierce appeared at my side. I did not recognize him, of course. “The meter is in the basement” I said.

“But your destiny is in my hands,” he answered. I looked, and in his hands he held a handwritten manuscript a sheaf of several hundred papers.

As a professional writer and editor, I was accustomed to people offering me their manuscripts to read, and I was adroit at avoiding the issue. “I don’t read manuscripts for free,” I said.

“I don’t give a hoot whether you read it or not” he answered. “However, you will type it up and prepare it for publication.” When I began to protest he identified himself. “Where have you been all this time?” I asked.

“I was translated by the Three Nephites,” he said, “and I have been living in Zion ever since.” Then perceiving that I was still skeptical, he gave me sufficient proof that he was a translated being. For instance, I spent a good portion of our conversation hovering in the air upside down over my rockpile.

It seemed that during his years in Zion, he had been assigned to rewrite all of his works in line; with his new understanding of the gospel. Now it was time for him to seek a publisher for the rewrite of his famous Devil’s Dictionarynow entitled Saintspeak: The Mormon Dictionary. As you may have guessed, the manuscript he held in his hands is the book you now hold in yours. My task was to edit it correct any slips of the pen, and cause it to be published. All the royalties were to be put in a special account in Zion’s Bank, which has a branch office where he lives. I was to be paid nothing for the work. “Consider it a church assignment” he said.

“Why me?” I asked.

Ambrose Bierce“When we visit mortals, we are sent to our peers. For instance, Moroni was a prophet, a seer, a gifted translator—and he was sent to Joseph Smith, who was also a prophet, seer, and translator. I, however, was a miserable, money-grubbing hack writer, and so , naturally—”

“I see,” I said, and agreed to do the work.

Now, I am not one to try to second-guess translated beings, but as I read Bierce’s manuscript I couldn’t help but to notice that he has a mean streak a mile wide. In fact, he seemed determined to offend every single Mormon and half the Gentiles in the world. Of course I couldn’t delete anything he wrote, but I also knew that Mormons just aren’t used to reading things that don’t congratulate them for being Saints. To help solve this problem, I took the liberty of adding a few nice definitions here and there. Anything that makes you mad is by Bierce. If you have complaints, take them up with him.

Orson Scott Card, Orem, 1981

active  In a busy church, anything that isn’t moving is presumed dead, including faith.  Thus, we don’t distinguish between the faithful and the unbelieving, the spiritual and the worldly—we divide the Church into the active and the inactive.  Active Saints are always running between the meetinghouse and the family van carrying cakes, casseroles, children, or chairs to or from a Church event.  Inactive Saints sit like languid mollusks in front of the television set, surrounded by ash trays, beer cans, and copies of Penthouse, groaning in misery because wickedness never was happiness.  “Semi-active” Saints lurch about a little on unsteady legs.

Adam  The first man to insist he was not responsible for what a woman enticed him to do.

Adam-God theory  A doctrine that was never taught in the Church, especially by Brigham Young. (See blood atonement.)

agency  Within your stewardship, complete independence to do what you’re told.

agonize  What your Church leader will always tell you he did before making a decision that unhinges your life.

Articles of Faith  A handy senility test. You were at your mental peak when you memorized the thirteen articles in Primary. Now you can see how far your mind has gone by trying to recite the lists in articles six, seven, twelve, and thirteen without looking at notes.

As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.  A doctrine which makes perfect sense when applied to me, but becomes downright unbelievable when applied to almost anyone else I can think of.

assistant to the president  The missionary most likely to succeed.

Babylon  An allegorical name for the wild and wicked world. In Babylon, all that anyone cares about is making money, acquiring material goods, and delighting in carnal pleasures. In Zion, on the contrary, everyone works very hard to make money, acquire material goods, and delight in quorum socials.

bad luck  The reason why you are rich and I am poor. (See will of the Lord.)

baptism by fire  What happens when a convert is put in charge of the nursery.

baptism for the dead  An example of pure charity. It wins them neither fame nor profit yet Mormons will travel hundreds of miles at great expense in order to give to people they do not know a gift that might not be accepted.

baptisms  What missionaries are told they would get lots of if they would only pay attention in zone meeting.

Battlestar Galactica   In an effort to embarrass the Church, the devil caused Mormon terms like “eternal marriage” and “the Council of the Twelve” and “Kobol” (Kolob) to be presented in an uninspired, untalented, badly written television show. Thus, when missionaries tell investigators about the Council of the Twelve, the investigators are quite likely to giggle and say, ”I’m sorry to laugh, but that just reminds me of the silliest sort of science fiction.”

bear my testimony  What I say I am going to do just before I tell you all about my inspiring trip around the world, where I learned how grateful we all should be to live in America where the Constitution is inspired, people are friendly, and women shave their legs.

Beehives  Twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls in Mutual. Ask your local Beehive teacher whether the beehive was chosen as their symbol because of their cooperation, their buzz, or their sting.

best two years of my life  My mission, in retrospect

bishop  In seminary films, the bishop is the man who has the solution to all problems in life. In his own home, the bishop is the man who used to be daddy before mommy became a single parent

bishopric  The three men sitting together on the stand in sacrament meeting. The sleepy one in the middle is the bishop.

blessing  1. The ordinance in which hundreds of male relatives, home teachers, and members of the bishopric surround a newborn baby and bounce it up and down while someone, usually the father, mumbles into a microphone. Trapped and outnumbered, the child usually screams, unless it is unconscious. 2. A traditional prayer offered over meals. Members of normal Mormon families take turns saying pretty much the same phrases a thousand times a year. Fervent believers insist on saying something new at every blessing. Fanatics do the same but also say blessings over candy bars, medicine, and party refreshments. 3. The ordinance of anointing and laying on hands to heal the sick; most commonly done to those not sick enough to need a doctor or so sick the doctors have given up hope.

blood atonement  A doctrine that was never taught in the Church, especially by Jedediah M. Grant (See Adam-God theory.)

branch  A congregation so small that everybody always has at least three callings, two grudges, and a feud.

brethren  The adult men in the ward. (See priesthood, the.)


“Now, when you get out to that Branch, … tell them …
that you have been sent by ‘THE BRETHREN,’
And don’t forget to wear somthing dark …”

Brethren, the  Even though the General Authorities are never addressed as Brother, they are collectively referred to as the Brethren. This term is often used to borrow authority without naming the source, as when someone calls you and says, “The Brethren have asked me to call you and urge you to go to the polls and vote for candidates who stand for truth, decency, and the American way. I happen to have a list here, so get your pen and paper ready.” Whenever someone tells you that the Brethren have asked him to do something, remember that this can mean he has an official calling from the First Presidency-or it can mean that he overheard a Seventy comment in an elevator, “Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would … ”

Brother  What we call a male member of the Church instead of “Mr.” if we wish to be formal or if we are younger than he is or if we can’t remember his first name, as in, “Good to see you at sacrament meeting, Todd. You too, Brother Jones!” Years ago Brother was also commonly used with first names, to show the equality of all members of the Church as Fellow children of God, as in, “Now we’ll hear a few words From Brother Brigham.” Now only common men are called Brother–higher officials are addressed as Bishop, Elder, or President. (See also Sister.)

bureaucracy  A term never used to describe the elaborate system of offices and organizations that provide logistical support For Church programs and govern the vast properties, holdings, and operations of the Church. So when you run into computer foul-ups, abrupt secretaries, and baffling regulations, remember that there are no bureaucrats in the Church, only dedicated servants of the Lord with health insurance and a Church Office Building parking sticker.

burning in the bosom  How the Spirit will tell you whether the Church is true or the pretty girl across from you in religion class is the one you’re foreordained to marry.


BYU  The cultural and intellectual center of the Mormon Church, where professors who have sacrificed salary and tenure teach students who are there to get married.

California Mormon  Someone who will buy any product, go to any play, and believe any doctrine, regardless of quality, as long as it is labeled Mormon.

calling  Mormons are content with what ever job they are called to do, for they know they will get exactly the same love and friendship and respect from their fellow Saints whether they are stake president or ward librarian.

celestial kingdom  To get there you have to be righteous, hardworking, baptized, married in the temple, and willing to go for years without seeing any of your friends.

chapel  To children, the worst place in the world from which they endeavor to escape at any cost. To teenagers, a place where they can talk endlessly without anyone yelling for them to get off the phone. To fathers, a place of refuge from the world where they may sleep. To mothers, the exact equivalent of a nightmare amusement park, where they must tend the children without rides, refreshments, or relief.

chastening  What the Lord is doing to your Latter-day Saint neighbor when terrible misfortunes come. (See also punishing, testing.)

Ward Choirchoir, ward  A group of Mormons who sing pretty much the same words at pretty much the same time while a conductor waves at them and children cry.

chorister  The person who stands in front of a group of singing Mormons, trying to stay with their tempo without letting the piano get too far ahead. No one ever watches the chorister, but no one will sing unless the chorister is there.

church  1. A building with a pulpit and a basketball hoop. 2. A loving fellowship of believers who gather together to help each other and serve God.


The invincible and the invisible. If you ever want to move a mountain, parcel it out to all the clerks in the Church and it will be done by the last Sunday of the month.

“You know … you should be spending more time with your family.”

clerk  The invincible and the invisible. If you ever want to move a mountain, parcel it out to all the clerks in the Church and it will be done by the last Sunday of the month.

Coalville Revelation, the  The announcement that the chapels and tabernacles that the pioneers erected with their own hands at great sacrifice were no longer needed.

conference  Normal Saints come to conferences; fervent believers stay awake; afterward, fanatics expect you to discuss intelligently a talk that came when you were removing a Cheerio from your child’s ear.

consecration  The practice of giving all your material possessions to the Church and receiving back only what you need. Some people need only cracked wheat, powdered milk, and the latest Deseret Industries styles. Others need three snowmobiles, a seventeen-foot boat, six deer rifles, and a Winnebago.

conservative  After the presidency of Heber J. Grant, what all Mormons were perceived by nonmembers to be. (See radical.)

conservative Mormon  1. As perceived by a liberal Mormon: Someone with a completely closed mind who goes through the motions of obeying Church policies without ever understanding the spirit of the gospel. Conservative Mormons spout cliches about charity and then devote their lives to crushing out any sign of intelligence or compassion that dares to surface in the Church. 2. As perceived by another conservative Mormon: Someone who is dedicated to serving God in the manner God has prescribed, who therefore tries to keep his own life pure and help purify the Church to be worthy of the Lord’s approval at his Second Coming. Conservative Mormons listen attentively to the words of the Brethren and try to do all they are asked to do without presuming to second-guess the Lord’s chosen servants.

consolidated schedule  The name for a conspiracy to force teachers to prepare their lessons at least a full hour before class time on Sunday.

Constitution, the U.S.  The inspired document which makes America better than other countries. The only flaw in it was the provision for amendment, which has led to such excesses as the income tax, the repeal of prohibition, and the Bill of Rights.

constitutionalist  Someone who understands the Constitution better than Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, or anybody who was ever on the Supreme Court.

converts  Latter-day Saints during that brief and joyous interval between their baptism and the first time they complain to a fellow Saint about something the bishop or Relief Society president did.

"It says ... 'This painting has been ... approved for use in the church' ..."

“It says … ‘This painting has been …
approved for use in the church’ …”

correlate  To censor. “It thought when I wrote it that my poem was inspired; now that it’s been correlated, it has achieved something finer: it is inoffensive.”

Council of Fifty  The political arm of the Church in the early days. Most functions are now handled by the Republican Party and the Freemen Institute.

councilor  A member of a stake high council. A person with much responsibility and uncertain authority. (See counselor.)

counselor  One of the two nonpresiding members of a presidency or bishopric. A person with much authority and uncertain responsibility. (See councilor.)

crass commercialism  What it is when a nonmember keeps his store open on Sunday, prices his goods higher than their value, or uses beautiful women in his advertising. (See good business sense.)

crickets and seagulls  From the Mormon point of view, the crickets came as a phenomenon of nature; God sent the seagulls. From the agnostic point of view, the coming both of the crickets and of the seagulls was natural. From the anti-Mormon point of view, God was definitely on the side of the crickets.

cultural hall  A basketball court, sometimes used as an overflow room for the chapel.

cultural refinement  A monthly Relief Society lesson that provides Mormon women with all they really need of art, music literature, geography, and history.

Cumorah  A nondescript hill in New York State which is nevertheless famous because for several weeks each year there is a strange, unexplainable series of gentle eruptions of water accompanied by odd sounds and lights, during which it never rains. Thousands come to watch the events, and one odd group has even taken to dressing strangely and standing around in the lights moving their lips in time with the sounds.

Danites   A fanatic group of Mormon vigilantes that never existed.

D&C  An abbreviation for Doctrine and Covenants that invariably makes nonmember gynecologists do a double-take.

deacon  A twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy who passes the sacrament collects fast offerings, runs errands for the bishop, and plays poker on the front bench during sacrament meeting.

Dear John  What every male missionary fears most during the first twenty-one months of his mission and prays for constantly during the last three months.

Deseret  From the book of Ether, a word meaning honeybee. Now the name of bookstores, banks, a publisher, a travel agency, a paint manufacturer, a carpet cleaner, a newspaper, a coal yard, an auto painter, a motel, and a mortuary, among other enterprises.

Deseret Book  The correlated bookstore. If Deseret Book sells it, it’s OK to read it.

Deseret News  Once upon a time the Deseret News, the Church owned newspaper in Salt Lake City, carried on a highly entertaining feud with the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune. In these calmer days, the Tribune and the News share the same advertising office, cooperate on the Sunday edition, and never exchange so much as a snide word. Oddly enough, however, Mormons still get some small rebellious satisfaction out of subscribing to the Tribune, and nonMormons regard the Church paper with suspicion.

Dialogue  A publication of near-apostates claiming to be good Mormons, who fill the pages of the journal with heresies and perversions, and worst of all treat the gospel as if there were still questions that haven’t been resolved. If you see an issue of Dialogue in a friend’s home, treat him with love and kindness and try to keep him as busy as possible in church work. Remember, only people who have time to think ever get wrong ideas.

discussions, the  A series of dialogues leading to conversion. Missionaries memorize the long speeches; investigators ad lib their parts as best they can>

dispensation  Because the Lord likes to be neat he has divided man’s existence upon the earth into seven periods of exactly one thousand years each, called dispensations, the first six of which are presided over by, respectively, Adam, Noah, Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Joseph Smith. The Lord would never go over or under by a year or two, for that would make thousands of Seminary and Institute lessons obsolete.

Dispensation of the Fulness of Times  The dispensation we live in now. Eventually, every bit of the gospel that was ever taught will be practiced by the Saints. We already have tithing and the Ten Commandments; eventually we’ll get around to consecration, and kindness to deer in Utah.

Dixie  Brigham Young sent hundreds of Saints to colonize southern Utah and produce cotton, wine, and other useful products. The only product that really did well was the wine. And when the Brethren found out that the Saints in the wine country were passing the sacramental wine cup around for a second sip so as not to let any go to waste, their wine making days were numbered.

doctrine  Any idea that I have about the gospel, even if I can’t find it in the scriptures, because I’m sure someone said it in General Conference sometime. (See dogma.)

dogma  Any idea that you try to get me to believe just because somebody said it in General Conference sometime. (See doctrine.)

Duty to God  A prize given to LOS boys for outward signs of righteousness on the theory that boys too wicked to be virtuous for love of the Lord will nevertheless pass up all the interesting sins of adolescence in order to win some praise and a little pin.

Education Week  BYU professors come to your hometown and in a few days teach you exactly as much information as most college graduates remember ten years after getting their bachelor’s degree.

elder  A nineteen-year-old boy armed with naivete, short hair, and some memorized words who blunders his way through a door approach, eats half a gallon of your ice cream, and gives absurd answers to practically every question you ask him. But when he tells you that he knows God loves you and sent him to teach you how to be happy, tears come inexplicably to your eyes and you sit and learn from him as if he were, after all, an old, white-bearded man with a century of wisdom to impart.

endowment  A dramatic ritual performed in the temple by and for the living and the dead. Since a large number of Saints find it nearly impossible to stay awake through an entire ceremony, they are encouraged to repeat the endowment again and again, until they can do it in their sleep.

Ensign  The official Church magazine, often called the “fifth standard work,” since every issue is received through the urim and thummim.

Ephraimite  Every Mormon who doesn’t look like an Indian or have a Jewish-sounding name.

ERA  A new religion that has won many converts among Latter day Saints, who then, like most converts, turn fervently back upon their former faith and try to woo away others to their new religion. To become a full-fledged member of the ERA, you have to: 1. Be a woman. 2. Say abusive things about the Brethren. (See savage misogynists.) 3. Loudly shout “no” during General Conference when the members are asked whether they sustain the General Authorities. 4. Carry a sign on or near Temple Square during General Conference or some other time that will embarrass the Brethren. Signs should say things like “Mother in heaven loves ERA;” you do not necessarily have to have Mother in heaven’s permission to quote her.

Era, the  What Mormons over forty usually call the Ensign.

eternal companion  On your mission, any companion you have been with for more than two months; one month, if the companion snores. After your mission, the person who takes up two-thirds of the bed, leaves shoes all over the house, and puts away the vital papers that you keep in twenty-nine neat stacks on the bedroom floor.

eternal life  The life that God lives, except that with any luck you’ll have nicer children than most of his. (See also immortality.)

faith  A level of certainty that is stronger than belief, but weaker than knowledge. It means that you believe without proof something that does not need proof, and therefore you are not afraid to think about it.

faith-promoting story  Any story that makes you feel glad you’re a Mormon, even if you can’t bring yourself to believe it.

family group sheets  Bed covers for a very close family.

family home evening  An occasional family meeting held on Monday evenings, in which father presides, mother does all the work, and the kids get all the glory.

family is forever  What it feels like on the fourth day of the vacation.

famify preparedness  What is going on when Mormon friends send you dirty radishes, raw wheat, and grainy honey when you come visiting. It teaches their children that surviving a disaster may not be worth it.

farewell  A sacrament meeting in which a newly called missionary proves that you don’t have to know anything about the gospel in order to preach-you just have to know it’s true.

fast and testimony meeting  A contest in which your empty stomach battles to keep your unoccupied brain awake.

fast day  The first Sunday of the month, when normal Mormons skip breakfast and et one huge meal right after church.  Fervent believers also skip dinner the night before, while fanatics don’t drink any water, brush their teeth, chew gum, or bathe for twenty-four hours.

fast offering  A donation in which Mormons give to the poor the price of the two meals they skipped on fast day.  The size of the average donation should make the poor very grateful they don’t have to live on such a tiny food budget.

father’s blessing  The greatest priesthood gift your father can give you; to ask for one is the greatest gift you can give your father.

fellowship  1. (noun)  The harmonious feelings that exist within the Church.  To be in full fellowship in the Church is to be loved and accepted by the Saints as an equal, a brother or sister before the Lord.  2. (verb)  To shake hands a lot and say, “Glad to have you here, brother!” or “Welcome to Sunday school, sister!” the first Sunday that someone comes to church.  This is rarely done to people who attend regularly.

fireside  An intimate, informal meeting in someone’s home where a group of Saints engages in discussion with someone who has valuable knowledge or insight to share.  The best place to pick up the latest rumors.

fireside, fourteen-stake  Along with sacrament and priesthood meetings, one of the three required meetings at BYU.  Students who do not attend the monthly fourteen-stake firesides are probably having real testimony problems, and if they also drink Coca-Cola, they are plainly drifting into apostasy.

First Presidency  The highest governing body of the Church, consisting of the president, his counselorsand hundreds of secretaries, assistants, and security officers who give orders with the authority of God far oftener than the president ever does.

folk doctrine  Doctrines that grow up out of rumors and wishful thinking.  For example, it is a common folk doctrine that in the pre-existence, children chose the parents they’d be born to.  This idea is harmless as an expression of affection in happy homes, but it leads to the lotical conclusion that the children of child-abusers quite literally asked for all the suffering they get.  (See patriarchal blessing, rumors.)

forever family  A family, consisting of a father, a mother, and at least five children, that never quarrels, lives in an as-neat-as-a-pin house, has a rotating year’s supply, and drives a late model station wagon.

free agency  The power to choose between good and evil, which the Lord has granted everywhere in the world except Davis County, Utah.

Friend, The  The official Church publication for children.  Because children are a far more discerning and demanding audience than adults, The Friend regularly contains the best writing and artwork published by the Church.

friendship  (verb)  To fool people into thinking you love them long enough to get them baptized.  “I’ve been friendshipping my neighbors for three months, and now they’ve suddenly put a for-sale sign on their lawn.”

Fundamentalist  1.  In the world, someone who believes that the words of dead prophets, as recorded in the Bible, are all the word of God mankind will ever need.  Some Mormons occasionally get confused and think we have something in common with Christian Fundamentalists.  2.  In Saintspeak, someone who believes that the words of dead prophets, as recorded in the Journal of Discourses, are all the word of God the church will ever need, and any modern prophet who contradicts even the wildest speculation of a long-dead apostle is obviously leading the Church to hell.  Mormon  Fundamentalists tend to believe in polygamy, the Adam-God theory, blood atonement, and string-tied garments.  The current prophet is telling us we ain’t heard nothin’ yet while Fundamentalists think they’ve already heard it all.