Another immaculate conception

W Brewer brewerwa at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 20 20:27:28 UTC 2013

Once again, prescriptivism vs. descriptivism.  What is important for a
scientific discussion on this list is not what theologians pontificate on
definitions of virgin birth or immaculate conception, but on what
definitions language users have in their semantic constructs. Those are the
only interesting things (in the sense that they are basically unknown
without proper survey), not authoritative pronouncements ex pontificibus
maximis. Many of my previous messages are descriptions of what was in my
mind regarding terms under discussion. My testimonial on the <motherlode>
congeners e.g. was an exploration of my state of mind, followed by my
reaction to authoritative pronouncements. It is the state of mind of the
language user that is of interest, not the impositions of the  pedant. Let
us have more imaginative thinking and less condescension. That's an order.

On Tue, May 21, 2013 at 3:49 AM, Nathaniel Sharpe <nts at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Nathaniel Sharpe <nts at BETHLEHEMBOOKS.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Another immaculate conception
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Benjamin and John, I enjoyed hearing your analysis on the origin of this
> common misconception :P.
> As a "lifetime Catholic" I can vouch for it being held (embarrassingly)
> by quite a few of my fellow believers. I find it refreshing to read an
> accurate discussion of the term, as the virgin birth/immaculate
> conception mix-up irritates me with its implication that, to a Catholic,
> the only "clean" conception is a sex-free one. Yes, we do have numerous
> (and obviously repressive!) thoughts on how sex (which we think is cool)
> can often be abusive, demeaning and inhuman. However, we are adamant
> that conception is ALWAYS a beautiful thing and go to great lengths to
> protect the resulting little bundles of life, no matter how they got here.
> Just my two cents.
> -Nat
> On 5/20/2013 2:16 PM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
> > Subject:      Re: Another immaculate conception
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > That is essentially what I'm saying, though the first time I encountered
> this misunderstanding, there was a lifetime Catholic there who didn't know
> the correct meaning. I suspect this misunderstanding is widespread among
> Catholics, as well as non-Catholics and non-Christians.
> >
> > Benjamin Barrett
> > Seattle, WA
> >
> > On May 20, 2013, at 7:04 AM, "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
> >
> >> I don't think there is any extensive misunderstanding as to what is
> meant by "virgin birth."  Mainstream Christians worldwide, Catholics and
> Protestants alike, believe that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to
> Jesus.  (Catholics believe that Mary then stayed ever-virgin, while the
> majority of Protestants incline toward the view that Mary's subsequent
> virginity or lack thereof is of no great theological interest; the Gospels
> say only that Mary and Joseph had no sexual relations until she had borne
> Jesus and that Jesus had brothers and sisters, but as early as the second
> century some Christian writers argued that the brothers and sisters were
> from Joseph's prior, otherwise unattested marriage.)
> >>
> >> The difficulty instead is with the exclusively Catholic term,
> "immaculate conception."  It is natural for Protestants, knowing about the
> virgin birth and not knowing Catholic doctrine, to interpret the term in
> the most transparent way, which is as a reference to the conception of
> Jesus.  It requires some degree of theological education to realize that,
> in the Catholic view, there were two conceptions that were immaculate,
> albeit in different ways, and that "immaculate conception" refers only to
> the first of these, the physical conception of Mary.
> >>
> >>
> >> John Baker
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> Behalf Of Benjamin Barrett
> >> Sent: Sunday, May 19, 2013 5:05 PM
> >> Subject: Re: Another immaculate conception
> >>
> >>
> >> I don't think we're in the same discussion.
> >>
> >> The issue I am trying to address is: Why do people think that
> immaculate conception refers to Mary having conceived while being a virgin?
> >>
> >> As part of the language learning process, people seek for terms that
> match the concepts they want to express. Children get hungry and seek a way
> to express that feeling; fortunately, adults also get hungry and push that
> expression at the children, and the children figure out that "hungry" is
> the way to express that feeling.
> >>
> >> When people want to express the concept of Mary _conceiving_ while
> being a _virgin_, "virgin birth" doesn't sound very appropriate, and so
> they latch onto "immaculate conception" as an expression seems to fit
> logically.
> >>
> >> Benjamin Barrett
> >> Seattle, WA
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list