The lake may be salty, but the language isn't

Postcard: 2002 Olympics

March 11, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY - The Winter Olympics are almost here, and you can feel the excitement growing. What a wonderful opportunity to meet foreigners, sample their culture, learn their language.

And that's just the locals, not the international crowd.

Just wait until you meet your first Mormon and begin conversing in Utahnics, the native tongue. Barter with them for official Olympic pins, and the funkier unsanctioned versions.

Take a breath of air, but not too deep if you don't want the car exhaust to overwhelm you. Enjoy the city's mountain backdrop, but don't dally because a temperature inversion can dump a smog blanket over the landscape faster than Ray Lewis can smother a running back.

Hungry? Dip your French fries in "fry sauce," a disgusting orange-red goo invented in 1951 that tastes like watered-down catsup and has the consistency of 40-weight oil. For dessert, there's Jell-O, the official state snack.

Need to wash it down? Good luck. All beer in Utah is light beer, and the state government hides its liquor stores in vacant strip malls in ghost towns off abandoned highways.

It's enough to make you say, "Oh my heck!" That's Utahnics for, well, you can guess.

See, Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, don't curse. Or at least not the way sailors, college students and Helen Delich Bentley do. Instead, they say "fudge" and "scrud" and "H-E-double toothpicks," the way Barney the dinosaur might talk if he went on a bender and broke up a day-care center.

The nastiest thing to pass their lips - brace yourself - is, "Oh my holy crap!"

The natives also run their words together. For example, "yoell rat?" translates to "you all right?"

Make them speak slowly, and you may be all rat, er, right. But just when you get the hang of it, the speakers of Utahnics will throw you a curve, interchangeably using "dill" and "deal," "born" and "barn," "feel" and "fill."

Go ahead, practice: "I fill the need for a deal pickle before I go out and clean the born."

Gadzooks! (Yes, they say that here, too.)

Utahnics is so ingrained in the culture, it even has it's own official Olympics pin: a little skier yelling, "Oh my heck," as he tumbles down a mountain.

The Olympics are a big deal in Salt Lake. Locals tried five times to get the Games, thinking it would put them in a league with other cosmopolitan giants that have played host: Lillehammer, Albertville and Lake Placid.

The natives finally resorted to bribery, and now Salt Lake shares a reputation with other cosmopolitan centers: Las Vegas, Bangkok and Gomorrah.

It's a flippin' mess. Some locals have learned to poke fun of the bribery scandal by selling and trading pins that play on Salt Lake's obsession with counting down the days until the Olympic torch is lighted. Instead of "1,000 Days To Go" and "400 Days To Go" slogans, the un-Olympic pins feature sacks of money, hookers and limos (all rumored to be bribes used by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee) and inscribed with the words "900 Bribes To Go" and "300 Bribes To Go."

But the official pins may be even stranger. Miniature bowls of red Jell-O (and green Jell-O with shredded carrots), cups of fry sauce, a pitcher of red punch and bologna sandwiches - all with the Olympic logo on them.

Egad and hokey smokes!

Mormons, who are 70 percent of the Utah population, don't drink alcohol or caffeine or smoke. But they are trying hard to be good Olympic hosts to the rest of the world, much of which does. The leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Gordon Hinckley, says the 2002 Games are a great opportunity to prove "We aren't weird."

They're even trying to lighten up, a tall order for a religion that preaches: "Cease from all your light speeches, from all laughter, from all your lustful desires."

That can really cut down on the cocktail-party chatter.

Speaking of cocktails, Mormons out here joke that they have their own tequila: a bottle of Kool-Aid with a Gummi worm in the bottom.

The church has done its part to help lighten the load, publishing a book, "Best Loved Humor of the LDS People," and Web sites abound where Mormons (including church leaders) poke fun at themselves. Here's a few samples:

Why did the woman stop having children at 34?

Because she thought 35 was too many.

Get it? Mormons have large families.

No? Well, how about these:

"You know you're a Mormon if ... "

You have a favorite Osmond.

When you shop on Sunday, you post-date your check.

Your mother-in-law was pregnant at your wedding.

You've ever mixed Jell-O with meat.

As they say out here, "Oh gash!"

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