There are 7 thoughts on “Understanding Nephi with the Help of Noah Webster”.

  1. I know I’m late to the party, however I wish that you had gone on to 2 Nephi.

    Specifically for the words Blackness, Enticing and Enduring.

    Skin of Blackness as per Webster would be Skin of: BLACK’NESS, noun The quality of being black; black color; darkness; atrociousness or enormity in wickedness.

    Enticing rather than being the sexualized word in our day was ENTI’CING, participle present tense Inciting to evil; urging to sin by motives, flattery or persuasion; alluring.

    Whiteness: 1. The state of being white; white color, or freedom from any darkness or obscurity on the surface.

    2. Paleness; want of a sanguineous tinge in the face.

    3. Purity; cleanness; freedom from stain or blemish.

    Essentially it completely changes the way that we interpret skin color changes in the Book of Mormon (Color change is complete fiction) and the curse on the Lamanites, not a visible mark that God placed, rather a mark they applied.

    That they were made to be not enticing is a blessing so that the Nephites would not be tempted to join with them. It was not a degree of attractiveness on our modern 10 point scale of human sexiness.

    Another interesting one is the word Enduring – we think of it as a struggle, but it is actually “Abide” a much more revealing way of thinking of our relationship with the Lord as we progress.

  2. Very interesting article. I found many of the nuances helpful–and I footnoted your commentary on the Liahona!
    FYI, if you want to find Charles Dicken’s reason for picking the name Ebenezer you’ll have to look in a Hebrew dictionary:)

  3. Mike

    Thanks for your comment. As you cited, Webster’s definition #2 for neck, gives two separate but related meanings. Webster then gave an example of the neck between Boston and Roxbury. Not being very familiar with that area, I looked at Google Earth and could see that Roxbury is on the mainland while Boston is at the end of the “neck.” Definitionally, this example seems to fit his first meaning the best – a long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body. I agree that this meaning would not work for the narrow neck of land in the Book of Mormon.

    But, I do believe that the second meaning – a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts – does fit with the isthmus of Tehuantepec theory. “Narrow” and “larger” as used in the definition are relative terms of course.

    • Loren, I appreciate your response.

      I find it very unlikely that the explanatory phrase in the 1828 Webster 2nd definition of “neck” was to elucidate the first definitional phrase. I think it has to refer back to the second. The first doesn’t need an explanation. Also, the definition of Isthmus which is about connecting continents refers to the same Boston-Roxbury neck (indicating Webster saw two tracts of land connected by the neck in this case), but then stated that the difference between isthmus and neck is in scale.

      The three versus in the Book of Mormon modify neck with either small or narrow, highlighting the possibility that this feature is on the smaller end of the definition as described in Webster 1828.

      None of the three references state that people transited the neck either across its length or breadth; however many of us (myself included) have projected such movements on the text. It can be read so, but doesn’t have to, in my opinion.

      I find myself teetering between the believing that the word means what Webster 1828 says, making most interpretations of the narrow neck of land problematic, or the translation really referred to “isthmus” but that word wasn’t in as much common use as Webster might imply.

      While I remain convinced that looking at Webster 1828 provides insight into usage at the time, I am not convinced that it proves the meaning intended in the translation of the Book of Mormon into English in every case.

      I can’t help wondering if the reference is to an isthmus between two large land masses or a reference to landmark clearly seen on a coastal road marking a major cultural transition. That might explain the narrow neck reference in Alma 63, as the place where Hagoth built his ships, such a neck extending out into the ocean could provide the harbor required for his action.

  4. I too appreciate the article. I often look up words in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary to try to understand what is meant. But, sometimes I wonder how Joseph Smith defined words. Definitions in that dictionary make a case and differences between then and now make for very interesting comparisons.

    For example, the meaning of “neck” or “neck of land” in the 1828 Webster’s doesn’t fit isthmus connecting two large land masses as we often interpret the three Book of Mormon verses about the “small neck of land” or “narrow neck of land.” The 1828 Webster’s has a definition of “neck” as “A long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury.” The first clearly doesn’t match an isthmus, the second definition connects a relative small land mass around Boston to the mainland. “Isthmus” in the 1828 Webster’s is defined as “A neck or narrow slip of land by which two continents are connected, or by which a peninsula is united to the mainland. Such is the Neck, so called,which connects Boston with the main land at Roxbury. But the word is applied to land of considerable extent, between seas; as the isthmus of Darien, which connects North and South America, and the isthmus between the Euxine and Caspian seas.” But, how did Joseph Smith interpret the terms?

  5. MrNirom

    Thanks for your post. Your comments about llamas and alpacas is interesting, but not quite correct. Those words are in the 1828 dictionary, just spelled differently. Webster spelled llama with only one l – lama. He defined it as “a small species of camel, the camelus lama of South America.” He spelled alpaca as alpagna – “an animal of Peru, used as a beast of burden; the Cameuls Paco of Linne, and the Pacos of Pennant. Dict. of Nat. Hist.” But, this does not mean that cureloms and cumoms could not have been llamas and alpacas.

    We still do not have original English words for those two animals. We use the Spanish words for them.

  6. Thank you for this article. It shows that we must be careful in thinking we know what a word means. I believe presentism could be used for word usage as well as present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.

    But what I do find very interesting.. it the words that are in the Book of Mormon.. that were NOT in the Webster 1828 Dictionary.

    Here is a at statement in the Book of Mormon.. Ether 9:19

    And they also had horses, and asses,
    and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms;
    all of which were useful unto man,
    and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.

    Now we of course don’t know what a curelom and cumom is.. right? Yet.. we could guess. Just by seeing the grouping of the words.

    Here Moroni tells us about the animals that man used. And based on this list.. we can see that this list contains working animals. Horses, asses and elephants are pack animals.. and have been used by man to carry our stuff. So the curelom and cumom would also be a pack animal if we look at the grouping of the words.

    But.. Now Moroni does something wonderful.. he groups three of them together.. and gives them “additional” value.. “and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.”

    If we start thinking about old world type pack animals.. we can see where camels are used as such. And now looking at new world animals.. what kind of animals on this side of the world.. the South, Central, and North American continents.. what kind of animals are used as pack animals.. where their grouping with an elephant would be significant? I can think of two animals that would easily fit that group. The Llama and Alpaca.

    Now.. if indeed the Llama and Alpaca are the curelom and cumom.. why did Joseph not just write the words Llama and Alpaca? This is were it gets interesting.

    So.. lets turn to our trusty 1828 Websters dictionary and look up both of these words.

    They are not there!

    In 1828… there was no English word for Llama and Alpaca.

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