Update on Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon: One Potential Test to Identify the Possible Influence of New England Dialect on the Dictated Text

Executive Summary:

I remain impressed with the detailed, data-rich work of Carmack and Skousen regarding Early Modern English (EModE) influence in the original text of the Book of Mormon. However, I’ve wondered if English dialects that Joseph knew and spoke could account for a significant portion of the observed EModE elements in the BOM. In exploring this issue, I have found a study on the use of the verb “be” in New England dialect showing characteristic non-standard forms that evolved after the EModE among immigrants in the United States. The article is “Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence” by Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available). This suggested a test to consider: Does the original text of the BOM use New England-style patterns of the verb be that distinguishes it from EModE, or are the patterns consistent with Carmack and Skousen’s work?

Given that Joseph Smith lived in New England (Vermont) until age 8 and was raised by New England parents from Vermont and New Hampshire, a fair assumption about his personal dialect is that it was strongly influenced by New England dialects.

My analysis is not yet complete, and I would appreciate input from competent linguists (including Stanford Carmack if time permits!), but so far, after examining every occurrence of be in the Book of Mormon and looking for usages relevant to Pablé and Dylewski’s study, the relevant instances of invariant be appear to be consistent with EModE and do not point to uniquely New England influence.

Note: To best understand the Book of Mormon text as dictated by Joseph Smith, it is vital to use Royal Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), hereafter The Earliest Text.


Much of the non-standard, awkward grammar in the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph turns out to be characteristic of Early Modern English (EModE) several decades before the King James Bible was written. This puzzling discovery was first made by Dr. Royal Skousen, the man whose lifetime of work in pursuing the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has resulted in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, giving us the arguably best available estimate of what Joseph dictated to his scribes.

EModE can be said to begin around 1470 and to extend to perhaps 1670 or so. The KJV, first published in 1611, fits squarely in this period, yet has some distinct differences from the EModE of earlier decades. Finding EModE elements that pre-date KJV English or that do not occur in the KJV was not driven by an apologetic agenda, but was a completely counterintuitive and controversial find that was simply driven by the data. Apologetic arguments have evolved, but the case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon in no way depends upon them. If the language of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith was standard Yankee dialect or just Joseph’s own bad grammar, as many of us have long assumed, that fits the idea of revelation being given to people in their own tongue and language. It’s quite a paradigm shift to consider that the language Joseph was dictating might not just be his own language loosely draped in KJV verbiage but often reflected some kind of tight linguistic control to yield archaic scriptural language that was surprisingly standard or acceptable in an era slightly before the KJV was translated. Why and how is still a matter for speculation and debate. But the data is there and demands to be considered, explored, and tested.

One man taking up that challenge is a linguist, Dr. Stanford Carmack, who has further explored the strange occurrence of archaic EModE from several angles in great detail. Carmack more fully demonstrates that the Book of Mormon provides extensive and accurate EModE usage and grammar in ways that cannot be explained by copying the KJV. Such laughable blunders as “in them days,” “I had smote,” and “they was yet wroth” turn out to be consistent with EModE patterns. The analysis shows that much of what we thought was bad grammar is quite acceptable EMoDE, sometimes showing a sophisticated mastery of EModE.

The findings are puzzling indeed, but his work is rich with facts and data that again demand attention. The four articles Dr. Carmack has contributed to the Mormon Interpreter are worthy of note. I am especially impressed with the broad information and analysis presented in his “A Look at Some ‘Nonstandard’ Book of Mormon Grammar,” which I just re-read today after doing a two-hour seminar in Shanghai last week on the topic of the subjunctive mood in English grammar (the crazy things I get involved with here!). Digging into some of the mysteries of the English subjunctive prepared me to much better appreciate some of the powerful points Carmack makes in that work. His analysis deserves much more attention and contemplation.

Royal Skousen and Carmack Stanford feel strongly that the abundance of EModE elements in the BOM is evidence of divine tight control in text somehow given to Joseph Smith to dictate, and that it is perhaps a fingerprint of divine origins in the text. However, some skeptics have wondered if it can be explained by residual EModE influence in Joseph’s dialect of English. Some of the “hick language” found in regional dialects preserves elements of English that have long since become obsolete in modern English, so such a thing could be possible to some degree.

I think Carmack and Skousen would argue that the level of EModE is so strong and often so appropriate to the 1500s that it would be hard for so many elements to survive in the United States. But I feel we need more work to analyze regional dialects that could have influenced Joseph Smith to see if the strange characteristics of the language in the earliest text could be explained as a natural result of Joseph naturally expressing revealed concepts in his own language.

A natural language hypothesis can be consistent with either a fabricated text or a divinely transmitted text based on real ancient writings on golden plates. Indeed, a translation process using Joseph’s own language and dialect, complete with bad grammar and other linguistic warts, is what some faithful LDS thinkers have long assumed. But Carmack and Skousen offer a surprisingly different explanation for the flaws in the original text: not bad grammar, but a divinely transmitted English text with heavy dose of reasonably good Early Modern English provided with the consistency, subtlety, variety, sophistication, and naturalness of an native EModE speaker, making the linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon impossible to explain as a derivative of the KJV, though it also draws heavily upon that text. If BOM language is not simply the language of the KJV, could it be in part the language of Joseph’s local dialect, or is something more miraculous required?

There She Be: One Possible Test for New England Dialect

To explore the hypothesis that Joseph’s own regional dialect simply preserved EModE elements in ways that can account for all or much of the original text of the BOM, some additional tests are needed. While the Book of Mormon was dictated in upstate New York, it’s reasonable to assume that New England dialect may have been a strong influence in Joseph’s language. He was born in Vermont and lived there until age 8, and continued to be raised by his thoroughly New Englander parents, with a father from New Hampshire and a mother from Vermont.

In searching for information on New England dialect, I found an interesting study that may be useful in framing a test that can differentiate the influence of New England dialect from EModE on some non-standard elements in the original text of the Book of Mormon. The reference is Adrian Pablé and Radosław Dylewski, “Invariant Be In New England Folk Speech: Colonial And Postcolonial Evidence,” American Speech, Vol. 82, No. 2 (2007)151-184 (a full text PDF is available).

Pablé and Dylewski explore a widely recognized feature of New England dialect, the tendency to use the finite “be” in indicative cases that would normally require conjugated forms like “is” or “are” in standard modern English. For the third person plural, both New England dialect and EModE sometimes use finite be, as in “they be there.” But a distinguishing feature is the use of invariant befor the third person singular indicative, as in “he be here”, a pattern which is well known in New England dialect but not characteristic of EModE. New England dialect also shows first and second person singular invariant be in indicative cases, beginning apparently early in the eighteenth century and unattested in the seventeen century, apparently sprouting up in the United States, diverging from Early Modern English and the English of England:

Based on the evidence at our disposal, we feel justified to claim that by the late seventeenth century, be in colonial varieties of English was diffusing to grammatical contexts typical of postcolonial New England folk speech, but atypical of Early Modern British English, namely to the first- and second-person singular context. It may well be that the questions just cited constitute the earliest “American” attestations of nonsubjunctive be with the singular. The historical dictionaries of American English offer no analogous attestations of be dating back to the seventeenth century. The earliest reference work featuring singular indicative be in a declarative clause is the Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles (1938–44), which quotes from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, published in 1702: “I been’t afraid! I thank God I been’t afraid!”

Interestingly, the New Englanders using be as a singular indicative form (i.e., Ann Carr-Putnam, the magistrates John Hathorne/Jonathan Corwin, Cotton Mather) were all American-born, which underpins the “domestic origin” hypothesis of singular indicative be.

Postcolonial and Early-twentieth-century New England. While invariant be in colonial American English has not yet been studied in any systematic way, grammarians and dialectologists devoted some attention to it once it had become recurrent in the speech of the “common people” living in a particular area. In fact, a social and regional connotation inherent in be was noticed by contemporary observers already at the end of the eighteenth century—in Noah Webster’s (1789) Dissertations on the English Language, he included be as a typical feature of “the common discourse of the New England yeomanry”: “The verb be, in the indicative, present tense, which Lowth observes is almost obsolete in England, is still used after the ancient manner, I be, we be, you be, they be” (385).

Grammarians writing in the first decades of the nineteenth century also commented on the regional concentration of invariant be usage. Thus, John Pickering wrote in his 1816 Vocabulary that finite be “was formerly much used in New England instead of am and are, in phrases of this kind: Be you ready? Be you going? I be, &c” (46). In his English Grammar, Samuel Kirkham (1834, 206), in a chapter dedicated to “provincialisms,” cited two examples of be supposedly typical of “New England or New York,” with be appearing in independent direct statements (“I be goin”; “the keows be gone”); Kirkham also adduced examples of be as a main verb in direct questions and short answers—as Pickering had done (“Be you from Berkshire?” “I be”)—and cited the negative form (“You bain’t from the Jarseys, be ye?”). In Kirkham’s opinion, the latter three cases represented only “New England” usage.

(pp. 167-168)

The authors also observe that New England dialect tends to rarely use invariant be with the third person plural, though this was part of EModE and surely was part of the early colonists’ dialect. For example,

The collocation there be/they be for ‘there/they is/are’ was not recorded as occurring in the speech of any LANE informants [LANE is the Linguistic Atlas of New England]. Notably, map 678 of the Atlas investigates the existential clause on the basis of the construction There are a lot of people who think so. As it turns out, Type I informants [less educated descendants of old local families, whose speech might best preserve old forms from New England’s preindustrial era] were reported to have said They’s many folks think(s) so and There’s many folks think(s) so, not They/there be many folks . . . , probably because contraction between the existential and the copula is always possible (i.e., grammatical), irrespective of whether the context is singular or plural (i.e., they’s, they’re, and there’s). Thus, plural existentials in postcolonial nonstandard varieties of English no longer find themselves in syntactically “strong” contexts. (p. 170)

On the whole, however, be in postcolonial New England folk speech does not seem to have been a form associated with the “old” subjunctive of Early Modern English but was primarily an indicative form (i.e., occurring respectively in direct questions and sentence-finally). (p. 172)

In discussing negative forms of be, the authors note the prominence of ain’t as a feature of New England dialect (less commonly, hain’t was also used; see p. 171). In the first half of the nineteenth century (Joseph’s era), two other negative forms were also common in New England dialect: ben’t and bain’t, contractions of be not (p. 171). None of these negative forms are found in the Book of Mormon. None of these negative forms occur in Early Modern English (p. 173).

Based on my understanding of this study, a characteristic trait of New England dialect was the development of invariant be usage beyond the third person plural known in EModE. Finding it in other cases in the dictated text of the Book of Mormon would be one way to differentiate New England dialect from EModE.

Some of those forms began to appear humorous or dated even to New Englanders by the 1930s when the Linguistic Atlas of New England was compiled, as Pablé and Dylewski report:

Atwood (1953, 27) confirms that informants using be as part of their sociolect in LANE belonged exclusively to the “Type I” category, that is, those born in the mid-nineteenth century, which suggests that be had become a relic form, no longer actively used by informants born in the first decades of the twentieth century. In fact, some field-workers of LANE noticed that the expressions How be ye? and . . . than I be were associated with “humorous usage” by younger speakers, which seems to indicate that such phrases were sociolinguistically marked in the 1930s and may have served for stereotyping.

There is no shortage of humorous grammar, at least for modern ears, in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon, much of which has been cleaned up and standardized. Funny-sounding first- and second-person forms of invariant be might just the thing to look for.

I have not found any such forms in the Earliest Text, apart from acceptable subjunctive phrases that are appropriate in EModE and somewhat less often in modern English (e.g., the subjunctive phrase “if it so be” which abound in the Book of Mormon is relatively obsolete today but well attested in EModE). The lack of first- and second-person indicative forms of invariant be is interesting and to some degree weighs against New England dialect as the source of Book of Mormon grammar , but that is not the end of the story.

Though rare, LANE does offer third-person singular examples of invariant be, including “How be it?” “How be it” does occur in the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, which I’ll discuss below. It’s usage is subjunctive, not indicative, though I suggest it is not consistent with EModE usage of that term.

To explore the possible influence of New England dialect on invariant be in the Book of Mormon, we should also consider third-person singular cases.

Relevant BOM Cases of Invariant Be: It Begins with the Title Page

Using my Kindle version of the Earliest Text to search for “be” poses several problems. Searching for “be” also returns hits for “being,” and searches text at the beginning and end of the book that is not part of scripture. Among the roughly 2800 hits for be/being in the Book of Mormon, I estimate that pure “be” occurs about 2500 times. Of those numerous instances, only a handful are noteworthy. If you have better search tools, I welcome your input.

The vast majority are the infinitive “to be” or “be” following a modal verb (can, could, will, shall, shalt, may, might, must and must needs, etc.). There are many subjunctive forms, especially “if it so be”, a phrase not found in the KJV but characteristic of EModE, as Carmack has shown and as you may verify by exploring works of Caxton, for example. A few examples of subjunctive instances will be shown below.

Regarding potential uses invariant be that might reflect New England or other folks dialects, the relevant examples of invariant be to consider begin right on the title page.

Title Page: And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men.

This sentence is one of the most interesting examples of invariant be in the Book of Mormon, and I wish to address it before looking at the remaining cases of note because it will assist in understanding additional cases.

The title page statement is similar to Mormon 8:17: “If there be faults, they be the faults of a man…” which has finite be in both clauses, but differs in using the plural faults and thus “they be” instead of “it be.”

Is “it be” a case of third-person singular invariant be that might be due influence from New England dialect? I don’t think so, because this sentence can readily be explained as a case of the subjunctive mood. What is interesting, though, is that the subjunctive mood persists in the second clause after being introduced in the first, when modern speakers might prefer the second clause to be in the indicative mood. Indeed, this sentence was awkward enough that Joseph Smith changed in the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon to what we have today:

And now, if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men;…

Not only has the double subjunctive been dropped, the subjunctive mood has been completely removed (the related sentence in Moroni 8:17 has not been “fixed”). Further, the singular “fault” that seems odd to modern ears must have bothered Joseph’s ear as well and has been replaced with the more standard “faults,” a change we’ll return to in a moment.

For the moment, I’ll use the term “persistent subjunctive” mood or “double subjunctive” to describe a sentence that maintains the subjunctive mood introduced in an early clause. (I’m sure there is a better grammatical term –let me know, please!) This feature, interestingly, is attested in Early Modern English. For example, see William Caxton’s printing of Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur (first printed in 1485). In Book 7, Chapter 31, we find:

When Sir Gareth saw that torch-light he cried on high: Whether thou be lord or lady, giant or champion, I take no force so that I may have harbour this night; and if it so be that I must needs fight, spare me not to-morn when I have rested me, for both I and mine horse be weary.

Here a subjunctive mood in “if it so be” seems to be maintained in “I and mine horse be weary.” On the other hand, this could just be an old plural form of the verb and not a subjunctive, so a few further examples will be shown where I think the subjunctive is intended. First, though, note that the spelling has been modernized. The original spelling of this passage, for purposes of comparison, follows:

whan sir Gareth sawe that torche lyghte he cryed on hyhe whether thou be lord or lady gyaunt or champyon I take no force so that I may haue herberowe this nyghte / & yf hit so be that I must nedes fyghte / spare me not to morne when I haue restyd me for bothe I and myn hors ben wery

Other examples from Morte Darthur:

Sir knight, said the page, here be within this castle thirty ladies, and all they be widows, for here is a knight that waiteth daily upon this castle, and his name is the brown knight without pity, and he is the most perilous knight that now liveth. [Original spelling here]

And if so be that he be a wedded man, …

By my head, said Sir Gawaine, if it be so, that the good knight be so sore hurt, it is great damage and pity to all this land

Sir, said she, ye must make good cheer, and if ye be such a knight as it is said ye be, I shall tell you more to-morn by prime of the day. [This is also an example of mixing ye and you in the same sentence, as happens in the Book of Mormon.]

so be it that thou be not he I will lightly accord with thee,…

Here is an example from Chaucer’s “The Tale of Melibius” (section 25, p. 213):

 And eek, if it so be that it be inpossible, or may nat goodly be parfourned or kept.

 Another comes from his “Complaint to My Lode-Sterre“:

 Whether it be that I be nigh or ferre, ….

This “persistent subjunctive” sense continues to occur in the Book of Mormon, frequently in cases where today we might prefer to use indicative or a modal verb + be in the second phrase, or even lose the subjunctive mood entirely. Examples:

1 Nephi 19:6save it be that I think it be sacred

2 Nephi 2:13 – If ye shall say there is no sin, there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness, there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness, there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not, there is no God.

Note that this verse a sentence with double indicative, followed by two sentence with double subjunctive, and then concludes with a sentence having double indicative again: is + is, be + be, be + be, is + is. (Sort of a chiasmus.)

2 Nephi 5:32 – If my people be pleased with the things of God, they be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

That sounds awkward to modern ears. The text now has lost the subjunctive mood entirely: And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

A Little Fault Finding

The awkward singular fault on the title page, now a comfortable plural, actually appears to be attested in early English, as one can find by searching EEBO (Early English Books Online) at http://quod.lib.umich.edu.

Some examples:

  1. … for the others if there be fault in them, let them be sent for, and punished.

Title: A breife narration of the possession, dispossession, and, repossession of William Sommers and of some proceedings against Mr Iohn Dorrell preacher, with aunsweres to such obiections as are made to prove the pretended counterfeiting of the said Sommers. Together with certaine depositions taken at Nottingham concerning the said matter. [LINK]

Publication Info: [Amsterdam? : S.n.], Anno M. D. XCVIII [1598]

  1. Concerning rites and ceremonies, there may be fault, either in the kinde, or in the number and multitude of them.

Title: Of the lavves of ecclesiasticall politie eight bookes. By Richard Hooker. [LINK]

Author: Hooker, Richard, 1553 or 4-1600.

Publication Info: Printed at London : By Iohn Windet, dwelling at the signe of the Crosse-keyes neare Paules wharffe, and are there to be solde, 1604.

The fourth Booke: Concerning their third assertion, that our forme of Church-politie is corrupted with popish orders, rites and ceremo∣nies, banished out of certaine reformed Churches, whose example therein we ought to haue followed.

Note that sometimes “fault” appears to mean “found” in early English documents, accounting for some of the strange cases you may encounter.

The relevant invariant be example on the title page of the Earliest Text sets the stage for what follows. Namely, every case of the “interesting” or “relevant” instances of invariant be (based on searching for “be” used with first, second, or third person cases) turn out to be reasonable subjunctive cases consistent with Early Modern English usage, including the use of the “persistent subjunctive” discussed above, along with specific phrases not found in the KJV but attested in EModE. If there is unique New England influence in Book of Mormon usage of invariant be, I’ve been unable to find any trace of it.

Further Relevant Examples of Invariant Be

As mentioned above, many cases of “be” involve an obvious subjunctive mood. Examples include:

  • 1 Nephi 15:33 – And if they be filthy, ….
  • 1 Nephi 17:46 – cause that rough places be made smooth
  • Numerous examples of the phrase “if it so be”
  • Many instances following save or lest, such as 1 Nephi 19:6 – save it be that I think it be sacred (mentioned above)
  • 1 Nephi 21:5 – though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord

“If it so be” occurs 42 times in the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon, almost always as “if it so be that.” This phrase is rather common in the Book of Mormon but completely absent from the KJV. Carmack’s work highlights it as an interesting example of EModE influence in the Book of Mormon that cannot be explained by borrowing from the King James Bible. It’s found in many classic sources of EModE, such as Canterbury Tales and in the writings of Thomas More. Though obsolete in modern English, did it survive to be common in Joseph Smith’s dialect? It’s a possibility, but I have not yet found clear evidence of that.

A Twist on If It So Be

After seeing “if it so be” so consistently and frequently in my search results related to be, I was genuinely surprised to stumble across an even more complex variation: If it should so be. This occurs in two places:

Enos 1:13 – that if it should so be that my people the Nephites should fall into transgression … (interestingly, followed by another if it so be that later in the verse).

3 Nephi 26:9 – and if it should so be that they shall believe these things….

This phrase is also found in EModE, such as in the 1562 work of John Jewel, The Apology of the Church of England, originally written in Latin and translated into English in 1564 by the mother of Francis Bacon:

For if it should so be, as they seek to have it, that Christ should be commanded to keep silence…

The phrase without “that” occurs in English much later, including in a 1732 sermon of Jonathan Edward, “Christian Charity,” which uses “if it should so be” as an entire clause that ends a sentence, unlike Book of Mormon usage where it is followed by “that” plus another clause.

More relevant may be an 1824 legal trial in Rhode Island that discusses a will written in 1772 having the phrase: “but if it should so be that my son John Shrieve depart this life, leaving no male heir lawfully begotten…” This certainly raises the possibility that this phrase was known in New England near Joseph’s day and could have seemed natural in formal writing.

Further Cases of Interest:

2 Nephi 10:4 – For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations, they would repent and know that he be their God.

“For should” acts as “if” and creates a subjunctive mood that persists with “they would … know that he be their God.”

The next verse, 2 Nephi 10:5, contrasts the unrealized repentance with the future reality, noting that “they at Jerusalem will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified.” Though not counterfactual, it is a future event where the indicative would not be as fitting. This is not an artifact of New England dialect.

“How be it,” as previously mentioned, poses more of a challenge.

3 Nephi 23:11 – And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing?

3 Nephi 27:8 – And how be it my church save it be called in my name?

“How be it” is an interrogatory phrase in the subjunctive mood expressing incredulity or alarm that is not found in the KJV. The phrase “how be it” is common in EModE, though often with a different meaning. That meaning seems to overlap the meaning of the combined word “howbeit” that appears to have evolved from “how be it.” The combined form occurs 64 times in the KJV. One of these verses, Isaiah 11:7, is quoted almost verbatim in 2 Nephi 20:7, using howbeit.

“How be it” with the typical EModE meaning does occur in the Earliest Text in Ether 2:25, which is how the Printer’s Manuscript showed it. But when it was typeset, it became “howbeit” in the 1830 Book of Mormon, and then was removed in the 1920 edition and is still gone in our recent editions.

The meaning in Ether 2:25 appears to be similar to “behold” or “verily”:

And behold, I prepare you against these things; for how be it, ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea and the winds which have gone forth and the floods which shall come….

Note also the switch from you to ye in the same sentence, a characteristic often found in EModE, as Carmack has shown.

In William Caxton’s writings and many other EModE sources, “how be it” abounds but not in the sense of “how can it be?” Rather, it seems to have a range of meanings such as nevertheless, in any case, even if, yet, etc. Examples:

Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 23:

Notwithstanding I will assay him better, how be it I am most beholding to him of any earthly man, for he hath had great labour for my love, and passed many a dangerous passage.

Le Morte Darthur, Book 7, Chapter 7:

That may be, said the black knight, how be it as ye say that he be no man of worship,…

That last sentence may again illustrate the persistent subjunctive following its introduction via “how be it,” though the subjunctive in the following clause seems fairly natural a quotation of that kind.

An early English use of “how be it that” that might express incredulity and concern is found in John Gough Nichols’ Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire, 1470. I may be wrong on this, for it seems that the usage here could more closely resemble something like “and it came to pass.” The Chronicle opens with this:

First, how be it that our saide souveraigne lorde, as a prince enclined to shew his mercy and pite [pity] to his subgettes [subjects], raither then rigure and straitenesse of his lawes, pardonned of late to his saide rebelles all tresons and felones, trespasses and offences committed and doon by theym ayeinst [against] his highenese afore the fest of Cristenraes last past, trusting that therby he shuld have coraged, caused, and induced theym from that tyme furthe to have been of good, kynd, and lovyng demeaning [loving demeanor] ayeinst his highenesse ; yit [yet] they unnaturally and unkyndly, withoute cause or occacion yeven [given] to theym by our saide soveraigne lorde, falsly compassed, conspired, and ymagened [imagined, perhaps meaning plotted] the final destruccion of his most roiall personne, and of his true subgettes taking parte with him in assisting his highnesse, …

Is he saying, “How could it be that our prince, after forgiving rebellious subjects and showing them great kindness, was the subject of a conspiracy to overthrow him?” I’m not sure. Be that as it may, I still see the two instances of interrogatory “how be it” in the Book of Mormon as more modern English and not from EModE or even from the KJV.

A discussion of “howbeit” is included in a 1997 article by Rfal Molencki on the evolution of “albeit” and may be useful in considering this phrase.

Third-person plural invariant be does occur in the Book of Mormon, as it does in EModE and New England dialect. An example is Alma 7:7: “For behold, I say unto you, there be many things to come.” The KJV also has this in Eccl. 6:11: “there be many things…”

I’ll share further cases as I update this article.

For now, the case for New England influence in the use of “be” in the Book of Mormon is coming up negative. The negative “ain’t” of New England dialect is also a negative for the Book of Mormon, in a positive way: it ain’t there.

There’s much more to say as I update this or add related material, but for now, in light of one proposed test based on the use of “be” in New England dialect and Early Modern English, the puzzling archaic English of the Book of Mormon as dictated by Joseph Smith is not handily explained an appeal to New England dialect nor by influence from the KJV Bible. There is more data to consider and many more tests to be conducted as we try to better understand Book of Mormon language and origins. I look forward to your thoughts and contributions!

Author: Jeff Lindsay

22 thoughts on “Update on Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon: One Potential Test to Identify the Possible Influence of New England Dialect on the Dictated Text

  1. Jeff, what treasure trove! Your comments make me wonder if the dictated manuscripts for the revelations of the D&C have any of these artifacts? Shouldn't they be considered in determining whether the BoM text is distinct from Joseph's personal dialect?

    You note that you find 2500 instances of "be" in the BoM, but my folio search only finds 246 with four instances of "being" bringing the total to 250.

    I too am fascinated with the subjunctive mood and basically lost all admiration for the NIV when I read the translators' introduction that they decided not to retain it in their version of the Bible. (John 14:16 "… that he may abide with you for ever;" is rendered "…to be with you forever.")

  2. For your search, you could use the query "be ". Adding the space to the end will help eliminate the "being" results.

  3. I realize this your latest obsession, but what's the point? That God, Moroni, or Smith wrote in some broken, quasi form of EModE? What is this supposed to prove? And why?

  4. To the previous anon: The Book of Mormon exists. It's origin must, therefore, be accounted for. The two main theories are 1) Joseph Smith translated it by the gift and power of God and 2) Joseph Smith wrote it/someone else wrote it and gave it to Joseph Smith but in any case it's all a fraud.

    Divine or fraud, basically. The problem is that regardless of which side you fall on, you have to explain away things. For the believer, it's the whole animals issue and the standard set of anti-Mormon arguments. For the fraud guys, it's stuff that exist in the text that Joseph Smith could not possibly have known or used; or anyone in the early 1800's for that matter. Both rely on the "It was impossible for X, therefore your argument cannot be true."

    We see this with the arguments over sophisticated Hebraic poetry structures in the Book of Mormon; could anyone in the 1800's have produced them? It's a marked weakness in the fraud argument. Stuff like how did Joseph Smith know the name Mahuijah for the Book of Moses is another.

    This Early modern English thing is another one of these things. What the linguists are saying is that the earliest text of the Book of Mormon is written as if in the 100's, not the 1800's. No one has refuted their arguments that it is an Early Modern English text.

    So. How and why is the Book of Mormon an Early English text? The questions are whether Early modern English somehow survived to Joseph Smith's time which is what our host's article is about. I couldn't generate an Early modern English text; nor could you. Yet it was done. How? Again, miracle or fraud.

    Can you write Early Modern English without knowing it; following the rules of grammar that were then in vogue? Not without consciously trying. And if you go to that effort…. wouldn't you let someone know?

    Basically, Early Modern English is a completely unexpected thing; no one either on the Pro Mormon or anti-Mormon saw this coming.

    The Book of Mormon appears to be a Hebraic text translated into Early modern English. Why and How are questions that neither side agree on. But it must be explained. If you are on the fraud side, you have to answer how did Early Modern English get used; and why on earth would a fraudster write the BofM grammatically correctly in an archaic dialect predating the KJV.
    For the Believer side; why on earth would Joseph Smith translate the BofM into early Modern English, especially if that was not his natural tongue. Why would the Lord do such a thing.

    It's at the moment a mystery that is completely there, and while it's easy to explain the how–Joseph Smith translated it as the Lord told him to– the question is why. From the fraud view, the how is unknown, as well as the why.

    So it matters; but from the fraud point of view, it's a challenge to explain away. How did a document produced in the 1800's read like a lost document from the 1500's? Writing it as a 1500's era document is non-trivial; and why would a fraudster do so? There's no point if you are claiming a translation–why translate it into early modern english instead of 1800's era? And would anyone even know about Early Modern English back then enough to actually write in it?

  5. Anon 508 laid it out pretty clearly. Anon 202 thinks the EModE in the book is fake. Has 202 studied EModE and the earliest text closely? Probably not. Hardly anyone has. So 202 probably doesn't know whether it is a "broken, quasi form of EModE". 508 understands that p(divine) is greater if the book has lots of real EModE in it.

  6. So. How and why is the Book of Mormon an Early English text?

    Good grief–the BoM is NOT an EModE text, and neither Jeff Lindsay (nor Stanford Carmack and the other EModEists) are saying so. What they're saying is that the BoM has certain elements of EModE syntax. There's a huge difference. Just read some of Morte d'Arthur in the Caxton edition and you'll see what I mean. Its English looks very different from the English of the BoM. Here's a sample:

    After the death of Uther Pendragon reigned Arthur his son, the which had great war in his days for to get all England into his hand. For there were many kings within the realm of England, and in Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall. So it befell on a time when King Arthur was at London, there came a knight and told the king tidings how that the King Rience of North Wales had reared a great number of people, and were entered into the land, and burnt and slew the king's true liege people. If this be true, said Arthur, it were great shame unto mine estate but that he were mightily withstood. It is truth, said the knight, for I saw the host myself. Well, said the king, let make a cry, that all the lords, knights, and gentlemen of arms, should draw unto a castle called Camelot in those days, and there the king would let make a council-general and a great jousts.

    See the difference? Do you still want to say that the BoM is "an Early English text"? And did you notice the many distinctively EModE features here that are NOT found in the BoM? As I said: the BoM is not an EModE text; it is a 19th-century text with bits of EModE, lots of KJV, and other miscellaneous archaic bits.

    By the way, Le Morte d'Arthur was not exactly unknown in Joseph Smith's day. It has long been a very popular book. A bit of googling reveals that two separate editions of the Caxton text were printed in London in 1816. In the second half of the 19th century, Mark Twain had a lot of fun satirizing the Arthurian romances (most obviously in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, but also in Huckleberry Finn). Such satire presumes, of course, an audience familiar with the object of the satire. And yes, I know — Twain is writing many decades after the publication of the BoM, but I see no reason to think Malory was less popular in Twain's day than in Smith's.

    It's going to be very difficult for the apologists to prove that Smith (or Oliver Cowdery) had no exposure to EModE prose. There were doubtless plenty of opportunities for it.

    There also still remains the possibility of mere chance. Remember, those of us who argue for 19th-century authorship believe that the BoM's author, like the author of The Late War, was deliberately tryng to sound archaic. In doing so, it might naturally happen that some of the resulting syntax wound up paralleling that of EModE, not because the author knew EModE, but because EModE was by then, you know, archaic. This "chance" hyothesis would explain why what we (supposedly) see is not actually an EModE text, but a text that happens to share a small number of EModE features.

    To those of us who are not LDS true believers, the evidence overwhelmingly supports a 19th-century composition for the BoM. I would note also that the general trend does not look good for Jeff and the FARMS crowd and the other bitter-enders. Just look at how the Church has backed off on its previous claims — Smith's unequivocal claims — for the Book of Abraham, which is now held to be not a real translation of the Egyptian papyri at all, but just an "inspired translation," something that came into Smith's mind at the prompting of the papyri. Also, of course, remember the recent cashiering of Dan Peterson. I'm guessing that similar retreats are in store for the ook of Mormon itself.

  7. Anon 5:40, Orbiting is correct. The BOM is not a EModE text. Jeff says the same thing in his following post:
    "Carmack does not argue that the BOM is pure EModE, but argues that it is a complex, non-monolithic mix with a little modern English and a good deal of Early Modern English"

    That pretty much describes a broken, quasi form of EModE just as I said. So far, the only thing Carmack's study has done is provide new questions challenging the authenticity of the BOM

  8. It's good of Jeff to note that Skousen and Stanford feel strongly that EModE elements in the BOM are evidence of divine tight control in the text, and perhaps a fingerprint of divine origins. The reason it's good to note this is that it's an admission of strong bias against alternative explanations. I don't mean bias that leads them to fudge their analyses, but just the kind of bias that makes them dismiss questions which no unbiased observer could possibly dismiss.

    For a true believer, it's all too easy to dismiss the alternative hypothesis that Smith aimed at an archaic style like that of the King James Bible, but failed to imitate the KJB perfectly, and the result was a text with some features that would have been more typical of natural English from before the KJB. Linguistic analysis of texts doesn't normally consider that kind of artificial stylistic hodgepodge. So Skousen and Stanford can shrug off the overdone imitation hypothesis as an oddball scenario that no expert would ever contemplate, and which they therefore do not need to take seriously.

    In fact, though, the only reason that an overdone archaism hypothesis would not normally be considered by experts is that experts do not normally analyze texts that show weird mixtures of features from diverse eras. What Skousen and Stanford are doing is rather like carbon dating a potsherd with a clear image of Bart Simpson baked into it, and shrugging off the suggestion of fraud because radiology labs never talk about cartoon characters.

  9. Anon 8:10 makes a great point: the presence of snippets of EModE in the Book of Mormon does NOT support the idea that the book is ancient or authentic. Nor does it support the idea that the book's production was divinely guided.

    It merely raises the question of how the (apparent) EModE got where it is. Here are some possibilities:

    (1) The EModE is not real EModE, but merely a chance artifact of the apologists' methodology.

    (2) The EModE is not real EModE, but merely a chance artifact of Joseph Smith's amateurish attempts to sound archaic.

    (3) Joseph Smith was exposed to some lingering EModE syntax etc. in his linguistic environment — for example, via reading some EModE text(s) or via some local dialect.

    (4) God put it there.

    The apologists have quite prematurely jumped on (4) as their answer. I say "prematurely" because the only rational way to get to (4) is by eliminating the possibility of (1) – (3), and the apologists haven't done that:

    — We can't even begin to rule out (1) until people like Carmack man up and submit their work for serious peer review.

    — As for (2), I don't have the slightest idea how it could be eliminated, since most linguists deal with natural language, not with language that has been deliberately altered to sound archaic.

    — Jeff is working on the elimination of (3) in this very post. But he will be the first to admit that he has a long way to go before he can convince nonbelievers that the BoM's language simply could not have been produced naturally by someone in 19th-century New England.

    — As for (4), it faces a number of hurdles of its own. The first is the question of why God would do such a thing. The difficulty here is indicated by Jeff's original characterization of the presence of snippets of EModE as "God's little joke" and then as "God's little irony."

    Say what? The basic idea seems to be that God sprinkled these archaism into the BoM in order to manipulate readers' responses to the text over time, in such a way that believing in the book would require a great deal of faith at first, but this faith would be rewarded generations later as apologists discovered more and more scientific evidences of the book's truth.

    Something like that.

    To those who are not already committed to the book's authenticity, this sort of explanation seems contrived and ad hoc in the extreme. It ranks right up there with the creationist claim that God deliberately put certain dinosaur bones in certain geological strata, in order to make evolution look true, in order to test our faith. These kinds of claims can be invoked to explain any kind of inconvenient evidence. I was surprised to see someone like Jeff suggesting them.

    Instead of jumping ahead to the "goddidit" explanation, to (4), the apologists should be addressing (1). But Carmack does not seem too eager to have his work reviewed by non-Mormon linguists. Instead we get blathering about bias in academia, the flaws of peer review, and other excuses.

    I still say that Jeff, not to mention Dan Peterson and the rest of the apologist crowd who want us to respect their work, should be the FIRST to demand that Carmack find a way to get some serious secular linguistic review of his work. Yet they too do not seem eager for this to happen.

    How about it, Jeff? Would you be willing to lean on Carmack to seek secular, non-LDS, professional peer review of his EModE claims?

    Or are you satisfied to have the world regard LDS apologetics as just another kind of creationism?

  10. Orbiting uses Malory's text, completed by 1470, but begun earlier, as a proxy to demonstrate that the BofM is not an EModE text. EModE = 1475 (Caxton) to 1700. As Orbiting knows, English changed dramatically in the 15c, and Malory sounds a lot older than a text from the 1570s. Malory's Morte d'Arthur can just barely be classified as EModE. It is not a proper proxy. What's Orbiting's game?

    Orbiting, Anglin et al. have never studied the earliest text, so they cannot know whether it is an EModE text. They are only somewhat familiar with the current LDS text, which is very different from the earliest text in FORM. Yet they are sure that the earliest text is full of faux EModE. So they have a strong opinion about something they know very little about. What's their game? If they were to study the earliest text and take note of, for example, the characteristic use of the plural {-th} and plural {-s} in the earliest text (see Roger Lass, CHEL III, 165-66), they would see authentic EModE. That is one of many items in the text that are systematically like EModE.

    The earliest text is almost entirely EModE, and it contains a range of language from the whole period–that is, plenty of language from both the 1500s and the 1600s. The dictation was tightly controlled throughout. Interestingly, Orbiting, Anglin et al. don't want it to be authentic EModE more than a typical apologist wants it to be authentic EModE. Most apologists know and follow the misguided views of Roberts, Sperry, Ludlow, and now Gardner. They don't know that the earliest text is EModE and they don't care. They haven't studied the matter and they're not interested in studying it, similar to the critics. What's their game?

    There are probably more than 100 legitimate EModE items in the earliest text where the probability of each one being found therein without a divine source is not close to 1. In some cases the probability is much less than 1. So overall Pr(EModE|not divine) can be extremely small, so small that even after multiplying it by a high number like 1,000 (in order to satisfy a Texas Sharpshooter counterargument), it would still be extremely small. Because Pr(EModE|not divine) can be extremely small, by Bayes Rule and the Law of Total Probability it is a straightforward matter to show that Pr(EModE|divine) ≫ Pr(EModE) and that Pr(divine|EModE) ≫ Pr(divine).

  11. Here is a strange idea that I will just throw out there. Some people are actually saying that perhaps Tyndale was in some way involved in the BoM translation process, which accounts for the strange EModE. I think that is stupid, but let's explore it.

    Smith was heavily involved in the occultic practice of scrying. His connections with magical practices are well documented, and he carried this interest all throughout his life, even studying Jewish mysticism in Nauvoo and joining up with the Freemasons.

    If some are going to allow that Tyndale may have translated the book through the veil, what is to say that a demonic spirit may not have actually been involved in the process? Joseph Smith was channeling the text through his treasure-seeking seerstone stuffed into a hat. He wasn't looking at the plates at all. So, the probability of him channeling demonic spirits through the occultic practice of scrying is very real, if you believe in spirits in the first place.

    Well, McConkie believed in it, because in Mormon Doctrine, he warns people from investigating the occult. (The reason he does so is probably not to protect people from demons, but really to protect people from discovering the true origins of Mormonism.)

    If people want to start talking about Tyndale, I think we aren't too far from talking about the possibility of demonic origins for the Book of Mormon. A grand demonic deception.

    Who knows….I certainly don't. But if you all want to get on crazy train and suggest that there is some divine, inexplicable EModE connections with the Book of Mormon, I suppose the sky is the limit as to just how far down the rabbit hole you want to venture.

  12. The earliest text is almost entirely EModE.

    Um, no, Anon 1:53, it's not.

    I've read a lot of EModE, and a fair amount of the "earliest text" (over at the Yale University Press site), and I can assure you that whatever that text is, it ain't Early Modern English. As far as I can see, neither Jeff nor Skousen are claiming it is.

    To repeat: The claim that "The earliest text is almost entirely EModE" is not true, and it's not the claim being made by the apologists.

    Your probability calculations are a joke. Why don't you do what really needs to be done here, and urge Carmack et al to write up this whole EModE argument as a scholarly article and submit it to a legit linguistics journal for peer review?

    What are you so afraid of?

    What have you got to lose?

    If the work is legit, don't you want the whole world to know?

    If the work is not legit, then don't you want to know that — if only so that you can stop wasting time barking up the wrong tree?

    Is the Most Correct Book on Earth so fragile it cannot withstand independent scrutiny?

    Anyway, no peer review, no respect. Sorry, but that's the way it works.

  13. I read one of the articles that Jeff linked here, a while back. It showed snippets of the Book of Mormon and snippets of EmodE texts, for comparison. The point of the comparisons was to show similarities of verb use, but it was obvious from all of them that the Book of Mormon was not early modern English. The EmodE texts were almost gibberish, with lots of unrecognizable spelling and vocabulary. The author of that paper — I think it was Carmack — never claimed at all that the BofM was full-on EmodE. It was only about frequencies of certain grammatical constructions: a few archaic elements in the style.

    To argue that I've never read EmodE texts, or the original Book of Mormon, is the kind of dodge by which intelligent people dupe themselves into believing simple frauds. I read Carmack's paper. If there were a stronger case to be made about the EmodE content of the earliest Book of Mormon, I think he would have made that stronger case. He didn't. The breadth of my own expertise is irrelevant here.

    I know it must be nice for Mormon believers to think that Skousen and Carmack are these sturdy champions of linguistic expertise who are defending the faith in ways that no non-expert unbelievers have a right to challenge. But as Orbiting Kolob keeps emphasizing, if they're such great champion linguists, why don't they publish in peer-reviewed linguistics journals? If they did that, it would strengthen their case for the Book of Mormon enormously. The fact that they haven't done that suggests strongly that they can't do that, because very few expert linguists would be at all impressed by their results.

    Furthermore, I'm a professor myself (of physics), and I have the academic authority to say that academic authority is crap. An expert is someone who can give you a quick, clear answer to a simple question. If someone can only tell you that you have to go away and read a few hundred pages, then you can be sure that person isn't an expert at all. If they can't cogently summarize a mere few hundred pages, and quickly give you the relevant gist off the top of their heads, then there's no way they've managed to grasp an entire complex subject.

  14. @ everythingbeforeus: ROFL!

    Are you serious? Prove McConkie believed in the occult. A statement he made does not prove he believed in the occult.

    You anti Mormons are always whining about lack of facts by the LDS church, so quit showing your hypocrisy and double standard and present actual VERIFIABLE REPUTABLE LEGITIMATE facts that McConkie believed in the occult.

    Being a professor of anything does not make one an academic authority nor does it mean the person is smart. It just means that person has a brain that can comprehend a certain subject.
    I know someone that is a who's a whiz in math with two doctorates but can't grasp anything else outside of math. Does not make them an academic authority.

  15. Anon3:33 McConkie believed in the reality of occultic practices enough to warn members to avoid them. He address this stuff in Mormon Doctrine.

  16. Yes, I'd love to see some aspect of this work go through peer review. One of my recent publications in a serious journal took over three years from submission to publication. I'm willing to wait that long here, but I also think there could easily be several months of further work required to tie up lose ends before something could be submitted. Analyzing similar elements in other texts from Joseph and his peers or exploring the nature of dialects in Joseph's era to further clarify their relationship to the Earliest Text might be important steps.

    I think a peer-reviewed publication might fly if it skirts the issue of divine origins and instead explores the interesting linguistic pedigree of the Earliest Text of the Book of Mormon without necessarily answering how it got there (though competiting theories could be mentioned). The article could examine the presence of pre-KJV EModE elements with statistical analysis of their consistency and distribution, their relationship to other KJV-style texts like the Late War, First Napoleon, and the 1822 Koran, and the case for uniqueness. It could also look at other components such as elements of modern English and even the touch of Middle English that is there. From work that has already been done, there is a strong case that the BOM is not simply an imitation and transplant of KJV text. There is a strong case that it maintains subtle and complex characteristic EModE patterns in things like the command syntax and the use of "did" in ways fit a pre-KJV context and in ways that are not achieved in other texts seeking to imitate KJV language. So is this due to Joseph's dialect being an unusual outlier, free of the characteristic New England dialect elements that we might expect to find? Was Joseph a closet scholar steeped in EModE lore? Was the text written by someone else with a passion for EModE? Or just an accidental mishmash that matches EModE elements in so many cases with consistency and precision? No answer needs to be given, but presenting the data and the analysis could tell a fascinating story that might be of interest to the academic community, regardless of their feelings about Mormonism. The Book of Mormon is an important and unusual book, and understanding the complex linguistic fingerprint of the dictated text will be an important contribution in better understanding this unusual American text.

    Yes, I'm all for peer reviewed articles exploring this from an academic standpoint, not touching upon the "miraculous vs. fraud" issue directly. That's going to be a matter of personal exploration and faith, but one that can be aided by intellectual exploration.

  17. Orbiting, I think you are improperly characterizing the Church's statement on the Book of Abraham. The Church is very much standing up for authenticity of the scripture, while also recognizing that there are multiple reasonable theories for how the translation happened and what was actually translated. LDS scholars have long taken a range of positions on this. Recognizing these various possibilities is not a retreat–it's progress. It recognizes some of the important things that we don't really know, while clarifying what we do know. The same applies to understanding the details of the original text of the Book of Mormon. We don't know how either was done. There are competing theories that faithful LDS people can and do espouse. Recognizing these approaches as possibilities is a reasonable thing to do.

    As for what we do know, the article at LDS.org affirms that the Book of Abraham is scripture and that it contains divine truths. The revealed Book of Abraham is an ancient text.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the book of Abraham as scripture….
    Evidence suggests that elements of the book of Abraham fit comfortably in the ancient world and supports the claim that the book of Abraham is an authentic record.

    The statement then goes into a long list of the evidences for the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient record, including evidence for Olishem, the interpretation of a portion of Facs. 2 as "the four quarters of the earth," the existence of human sacrifices as described, the pagan god Elkenah, the heavenly waters of Facs. 1, ancient texts describing Abraham's role as an astronomer and also mentioning how he was nearly sacrificed, etc. It doesn't mention some other direct hits for the Book of Abraham, such as the evidence for Soebek, the crocodile god of the Pharaoh, which I think is quite intriguing. But it gives enough for its purpose.

    Due to the missing original scrolls that were an important part of the collection and the uncertainty in how the translation was done and what was actually translated, the Church points out that scholarly debate over the translation cannot resolve the issue of the veracity of the book, but affirm the truthfulness of the Book of Abraham that can be found by personal study, prayer, and divine revelation:

    The veracity and value of the book of Abraham cannot be settled by scholarly debate concerning the book’s translation and historicity. The book’s status as scripture lies in the eternal truths it teaches and the powerful spirit it conveys. The book of Abraham imparts profound truths about the nature of God, His relationship to us as His children, and the purpose of this mortal life. The truth of the book of Abraham is ultimately found through careful study of its teachings, sincere prayer, and the confirmation of the Spirit.

    I think all faithful LDS people should be comfortable with that.

  18. Jeff, I'd say the Church's current position on the BoA is both a retreat and progress. The two are not opposed when the original direction is wrong.

    I believe you're being sincere in saying you'd welcome peer review of this work. However, while I'm definitely no prophet, I'm quite confident in predicting that it won't survive any such review, at least not in anything like its current methodologically flawed form, and that we won't ever see it published in a non-LDS peer-reviewed linguistics journal.

  19. James, it's a pleasure to have a physics professor here in the mix, even if you dislike what I have to say. Thanks for sharing your views. I agree in large part with the need to be able to cogently express answers, but on the other hand, chances are your experience in doing so is of the nature of teaching Physics 202 to kids who just passed Physics 201. If you are explaining something like "Why is the sky blue?" to someone who doesn't understand that gases have atoms bouncing around with minute fluctuations in density, who doesn't understand that white light is composed of a spectrum of colors with differing wavelengths, and lacks basic math skills, then "simple" explanations for the color of the sky might be highly confusing, misleading or inaccurate. If you try explaining that the strength of Rayleigh scattering is inversely proportional to light's wavelength to the 4th power, that may not help such a person know why the sky isn't red or green, and even if they get it, they might come back with objections based on their observation that the sky was red last night, pink this morning, and grey in the afternoon, all of which require additional explanation and detail–whoa, sounds like some kind of physics cover up, eh?

    Here's one area where I'd love a demonstration of that sweet ability (which I often lack) to explain complex things accurately but in brevity: Could you please tell me how a Higgs boson gives particles mass and gravity? I would like a brief scientifically accurate explanation that could withstand peer review, while being suited for someone with only a basic general knowledge of science (say, high-school level). Looking forward to the demo!

  20. It's not the Higgs boson that gives mass, but the Higgs field. The Higgs field is very much like the old 19th century aether. It's this field that extends everywhere in the universe, like the magnetic field you can feel between two fridge magnets, only a different one, and it's everywhere, and it's pretty much the same everywhere. Particles have mass — that is, they have inertia: they resist when you push on them — because the Higgs field pulls on them. The Higgs field is like invisible universal molasses, in which most kinds of particles are to some degree stuck. That's their mass.

    The Higgs boson is about how the Higgs field is not quite exactly the same everywhere and always. It can have little ripples. Higgs bosons are to those Higgs field ripples as photons are to waves in the electromagnetic field. The Higgs boson itself is rare and unstable and probably unimportant, but its observation was important as a confirmation of the hypothesis of the Higgs field, which is very important.

    The Higgs field does not give things gravity. Everything has gravity, whether or not it has inertial mass. Photons are inertially massless, but gravitational fields still deflect them.

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