Pathfinder 2E Paizo drops use of the word phylactery

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No matter the context I find it strange to at one point say that that changing language needs to be accepted but on the other saying that one word which has been in use for decades and most people do not even connect it to (one of) its original meanings should not be used anymore.
Isn't that a textbook example of changing language?

I mean, you can't say "no matter the context" because that's why some changes are accepted and some are not. If you remove context, of course it looks arbitrary: you're removing the reasoning behind it happening.
 

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Argyle King

Legend
Language drift and change, in and of itself, isn't good or bad. It's just the way language works. Words change meanings, fall out of usage, new words are created.

Borrowing a word from another language isn't inherently wrong . . . . but as several folks have pointed out, context matters. Linguistic context, and cultural context.

Phylactery was originally a Greek word, that overtime, became associated with a Jewish religious practice, which is now the primary meaning of the term. Gygax borrowed it, likely ignorant of it's context, or perhaps not fully understanding the context.

To continue using the word in D&D to describe a soul vessel for an evil undead abomination is disrespectful and insensitive to those of the Jewish faith for whom the word has a sacred and important cultural meaning.

Not all those of Jewish descent and/or Jewish faith use the word, or care about the word, or are offended by D&D's use of the word . . . . but enough are, and that's enough to make it an inappropriate usage.

By removing the word phylactery from D&D (and similar games, like Pathfinder), we aren't really losing much of anything other than a cool sounding word. And we're making progress on making the game more inclusive. It's a good trade, IMO.

I don't want to speak for anyone else, but a question that I think a different user was asking upthread is akin to asking: "why is the cultural/contextual shift accepted when going from Greek to Jewish but the cultural/contextual shift not accepted when going from Abraham to Gygax?"
 

I don't want to speak for anyone else, but a question that I think a different user was asking upthread is akin to asking: "why is the cultural/contextual shift accepted when going from Greek to Jewish but the cultural/contextual shift not accepted when going from Abraham to Gygax?"

Good question!

For starters, I think specific definitions are generally more durable than generalized ones, which makes the evolution of language more difficult in this case: for example, it's easy to see the word "phylactery" as a generalized word falling out of usage while the specific usage eventually supersedes it. I'd argue this is what happened over the centuries. It's hard for Gygax's definition to start to do the same given that it refers to the English word for a specific religious item which has yet to fall out of usage. That's already a problem.

More than that, though, it's stuck in a weird no man's land where it both refers to the religious item but also kind of doesn't. To me, it seems pretty clear that Gygax was referencing the actual religious item when he put it in there, but when someone actually went to explain what it was they didn't use the term/reference at all, leading to a very broad idea of what it is. Neither of these is helpful to the usage of the word:
  • If you think it's meant to be a reference (and I think Gygax definitely meant it to be as such), it's a poor cultural appropriation of the word and item given that it's something that is exclusively used by evil ultra-powerful necromancers.
  • If it's not (which you might take away from the original Dragon article where it's called a Soul Jar), then the word is only really being used to sound cool, at which point I'm not sure the necessity given that it doesn't immediately evoke what the object is. A bunch of the suggested alternatives here are way more evocative of what the item is while also being way more clear.
So to me, it feels like there's just not much reason to hold onto it. Either it's a reference and a bad one, or it's not and you'd probably be better giving it a more evocative name.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I don't want to speak for anyone else, but a question that I think a different user was asking upthread is akin to asking: "why is the cultural/contextual shift accepted when going from Greek to Jewish but the cultural/contextual shift not accepted when going from Abraham to Gygax?"

"Why is 'having a Greek word for amulet introduced into middle English 500+ years ago as a term for the Jewish tefillin when translating a book into English back then' different from 'a game designer picking the word that had tefillin as the primary definition in English for 500+ years from a thesaurus In the 1970s and using it as the name in English of the thing that holds an evil undead wizards soul in a game''"? is certainly a question...
 
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Dire Bare

Legend
I don't want to speak for anyone else, but a question that I think a different user was asking upthread is akin to asking: "why is the cultural/contextual shift accepted when going from Greek to Jewish but the cultural/contextual shift not accepted when going from Abraham to Gygax?"
Because one shift regards a people's sacred and cultural expression. The other is a game.
 

Argyle King

Legend
"Why is 'having a Greek word for amulet introduced into middle English 500+ years ago as a term for the Jewish tefillin when translating a book into English back then' different from 'a game designer picking the word that had tefillin as the primary definition in English for 500+ years from a thesaurus In the 1970s and using it as the name in English of the thing that holds an evil undead wizards soul in a game''"? is certainly a question...

Am I to understand that tradition and time are, for you, a factor in measuring appropriateness?

If no, can you elaborate on this response and clarify?

If yes, can you elaborate on how you feel that works when applied to words more-recently used differently by contemporary groups of people?
 

Argyle King

Legend
Because one shift regards a people's sacred and cultural expression. The other is a game.

I can understand that as a point of view.

In some cases, I may agree with that.

As a blanket statement, I imagine that it may create some challenges when attempting to discuss fantasy (or sci-fi) without building a new lexicon.

I'm okay with creating new terminology, but being successful in that endeavor requires it to be communicated well and take some amount of auditory aesthetics into consideration.

Does Paizo index Pathfinder 2 well?
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Am I to understand that tradition and time are, for you, a factor in measuring appropriateness?

If no, can you elaborate on this response and clarify?
I feel like a lot of text has been written about this already, and at some point you just have to do the work yourself.
If yes, can you elaborate on how you feel that works when applied to words more-recently used differently by contemporary groups of people?
Do you want to call out some examples? Keep in mind no one in this thread is an expert or arbiter of what "can" and "can't" be said.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I feel like a lot of text has been written about this already, and at some point you just have to do the work yourself.

Do you want to call out some examples? Keep in mind no one in this thread is an expert or arbiter of what "can" and "can't" be said.

For the former, I'm requesting that you elaborate on your own view.

For the latter, there are both positive and negative examples.

One such example involves a word (which I prefer not to use) which once referred to a bundle of sticks but is currently accepted (and used derisively) as a way to belittle members of the LGBTQ+ community.

A different example would be that saying "that s//t* is fire" would likely be understood to mean something very negative in the past, but it currently means that something is of exceptionally good quality.

*censored so as to avoid exposing people to language which may be harmful to their emotional or psychological health
 

For the former, I'm requesting that you elaborate on your own view.

For the latter, there are both positive and negative examples.

One such example involves a word (which I prefer not to use) which once referred to a bundle of sticks but is currently accepted (and used derisively) as a way to belittle members of the LGBTQ+ community.

A different example would be that saying "that s//t* is fire" would likely be understood to mean something very negative in the past, but it currently means that something is of exceptionally good quality.

*censored so as to avoid exposing people to language which may be harmful to their emotional or psychological health

I feel like this is just hitting the difference between descriptive expressions versus proper nouns. The latter is meant to be descriptive, and can vary based on delivery and intent, so that your emotion will change the meaning within the group.

This is... less so with the former example. I'm reminded of the South Park episode where they tried to defend a more "neutral" usage of the word, without really addressing the fact the power it has as a general curse is derived from the homophobic power of the original. The slur is specific, and trying to generalize it is hard, especially when its power is derived from the original.

(Man, that episode has aged horribly in retrospect.)

And that's part of the problem: "phylactery" is a specific noun. There is a generalized form, but it has been almost completely superseded by the specific form. It's hard not to reference the specific, especially when you can see the (admittedly muddled) intent to make that reference. While it may not have been intended as offensive, I think it's hard to argue it wasn't used carelessly. This is why making up words (like the example brought up earlier of "Horcrux") is a safer and generally smarter option.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I feel like this is just hitting the difference between descriptive expressions versus proper nouns. The latter is meant to be descriptive, and can vary based on delivery and intent, so that your emotion will change the meaning within the group.

This is... less so with the former example. I'm reminded of the South Park episode where they tried to defend a more "neutral" usage of the word, without really addressing the fact the power it has as a general curse is derived from the homophobic power of the original. The slur is specific, and trying to generalize it is hard, especially when its power is derived from the original.

(Man, that episode has aged horribly in retrospect.)

And that's part of the problem: "phylactery" is a specific noun. There is a generalized form, but it has been almost completely superseded by the specific form. It's hard not to reference the specific, especially when you can see the (admittedly muddled) intent to make that reference. While it may not have been intended as offensive, I think it's hard to argue it wasn't used carelessly. This is why making up words (like the example brought up earlier of "Horcrux") is a safer and generally smarter option.

I think something like "horcrux" sounds cool. To me personally, "Soul Cage" sounds like a 90s alt-rock band.

I believe that how things sound can matter in regards to how well they catch on. "Bae" (to reference a significant other) hasn't had as much widespread appeal or staying power as similar words -partially because of how it sounded. While it still lingers, my perception is that it didn't have the same impact as things such as "boo," "boo-thang," "babe," "hubby/wifey," or similar words.

The reason I brought up the negative (f-slur) example is that it's an example of something being taken and used in a very negative manner (as phylactery being used in a negative manner). Yet, the perceived change in meaning to become a slur has been accepted as part of contemporary language. I see that as an interesting case study when contrasted against the idea that a change's acceptance depends upon being a positive shift.

In the upthread phrase example, a phrase comparing something to burning feces means something overwhelmingly positive.
 

I think something like "horcrux" sounds cool. To me personally, "Soul Cage" sounds like a 90s alt-rock band.

I believe that how things sound can matter in regards to how well they catch on. "Bae" (to reference a significant other) hasn't had as much widespread appeal or staying power as similar words -partially because of how it sounded. While it still lingers, my perception is that it didn't have the same impact as things such as "boo," "boo-thang," "babe," "hubby/wifey," or similar words.

The reason I brought up the negative (f-slur) example is that it's an example of something being taken and used in a very negative manner (as phylactery being used in a negative manner). Yet, the perceived change in meaning to become a slur has been accepted as part of contemporary language. I see that as an interesting case study when contrasted against the idea that a change's acceptance depends upon being a positive shift.

In the upthread phrase example, a phrase comparing something to burning feces means something overwhelmingly positive.

I mean, evolution in language complicated. In this case, I think it's pretty clear that even if it's not outright offensive, it's just ill-conceived and we shouldn't be flippantly using specific religious terminology and items for the sake of exoticism. However you individually come to a replacement, though, is up to you.
 


TreChriron

Explorer
... I call it Animarium. From Latin anima meaning “soul” plus -arium suffix meaning “container”. Thus, soul container. ...
I like this alternative. I find "soul cage" and "soul vessel" to be a little boring. Not so much that I would cry havoc into the dark night sky...

My initial opinion on this was "tempest in a teapot" and didn't really understand the controversy. This thread has informed me and I now feel I understand the change. My learnings;
  1. Paizo creatives thought the word was used both in the wrong context and a potentially bad context and decided that "soul cage" was a more fitting term. It was a creative decision vs. a moral reaction.
  2. The word does have religious context. While some Jews don't mind the term, others do. It's the latter that is the most important. Why use terms that might hurt people?
  3. Context is everything. Using a religious term in a way that is respectful and relevant is not so offensive. Using a religious term as the opposite meaning is very likely offensive. The apostles don't rule hell and evil undead liches are not using phylacteries or tefflin in a relevant or appropriate manner. Better to just drop the term for a new one.
I would also note that the nerds here (I use this term affectionately) are very into language debates and brought out ALL THE GUNS in a way I've never witnessed before. We just witnessed one of the great nerd wars of 2021. And it was glorious!
 

Either it's a reference and a bad one, or it's not and you'd probably be better giving it a more evocative name.
"Soul cage" is evocative much in the same way "blood blocker" would as a replacement for "bandage." It's the equivalent of running into an NPC names "Bob the Elf." It may be easy to understand, but that doesn't make it good nomenclature given the nature and setting of what it's describing. We're talking about the artifact of an arcane ritual meant to sustain the existence of a potentially ancient being of great power. The name for this should evoke feeling as much as meaning, and "soul cage" fails pretty hard in that respect. As a counter example already mentioned multiple times in this thread, "horcrux" is extremely evocative of fantastic and mysterious feel despite having no meaning at all. Sometimes "sounds cool" is important.

So let's look at an alternative. The Greek root of phylactery would be "phulaktḗrion" or "safeguard." Looking at similar words, the easiest substitution seems to be "prostasia" for "protection." There's also "katafýgio" or "aigís" for "shelter," "ánkyra" for "anchor," Going a bit more abstract, you could go with "ório" for "boundary," "klouví" for cage and so on. Now let's combine that with something that does evoke the full meaning by looking at "psychís" for soul, spirit or "the animating principle of life." Now, since we aren't using a historical setting, there's no need to be grammatically correct in the combination, so we can take a page from Harry Potter's book and just use a quasi-combination that "sounds cool." Of the words I picked out above, I could see "ánkyrpsych" being a decent substitution, both because it has a decent sound to it, and because it can be easily explained as "an anchor for the psyche."

"Soul cage" may be descriptive, but it's also boring and unimaginative. Even the old "liberal use of the thesaurus" method is better than that.
 

"Soul cage" is evocative much in the same way "blood blocker" would as a replacement for "bandage." It's the equivalent of running into an NPC names "Bob the Elf." It may be easy to understand, but that doesn't make it good nomenclature given the nature and setting of what it's describing. We're talking about the artifact of an arcane ritual meant to sustain the existence of a potentially ancient being of great power. The name for this should evoke feeling as much as meaning, and "soul cage" fails pretty hard in that respect. As a counter example already mentioned multiple times in this thread, "horcrux" is extremely evocative of fantastic and mysterious feel despite having no meaning at all. Sometimes "sounds cool" is important.

I think Soul Cage is fine, but I can agree that it doesn't have that "fantastical" feel. Though I think that's easily supplemented by having different cultures in your world having different names for it in their own tongues and such. "Soul Cage" as the colloquialism that everyone can quickly understand it in, but the dwarves call it "Undkul", which is a mashing of the words for "Keep out" and "Death".

So let's look at an alternative. The Greek root of phylactery would be "phulaktḗrion" or "safeguard." Looking at similar words, the easiest substitution seems to be "prostasia" for "protection." There's also "katafýgio" or "aigís" for "shelter," "ánkyra" for "anchor," Going a bit more abstract, you could go with "ório" for "boundary," "klouví" for cage and so on. Now let's combine that with something that does evoke the full meaning by looking at "psychís" for soul, spirit or "the animating principle of life." Now, since we aren't using a historical setting, there's no need to be grammatically correct in the combination, so we can take a page from Harry Potter's book and just use a quasi-combination that "sounds cool." Of the words I picked out above, I could see "ánkyrpsych" being a decent substitution, both because it has a decent sound to it, and because it can be easily explained as "an anchor for the psyche."

"Soul cage" may be descriptive, but it's also boring and unimaginative. Even the old "liberal use of the thesaurus" method is better than that.

That's not a bad suggestion.
 

VelvetViolet

Adventurer
I like this alternative. I find "soul cage" and "soul vessel" to be a little boring. Not so much that I would cry havoc into the dark night sky...

My initial opinion on this was "tempest in a teapot" and didn't really understand the controversy. This thread has informed me and I now feel I understand the change. My learnings;
  1. Paizo creatives thought the word was used both in the wrong context and a potentially bad context and decided that "soul cage" was a more fitting term. It was a creative decision vs. a moral reaction.
  2. The word does have religious context. While some Jews don't mind the term, others do. It's the latter that is the most important. Why use terms that might hurt people?
  3. Context is everything. Using a religious term in a way that is respectful and relevant is not so offensive. Using a religious term as the opposite meaning is very likely offensive. The apostles don't rule hell and evil undead liches are not using phylacteries or tefflin in a relevant or appropriate manner. Better to just drop the term for a new one.
I would also note that the nerds here (I use this term affectionately) are very into language debates and brought out ALL THE GUNS in a way I've never witnessed before. We just witnessed one of the great nerd wars of 2021. And it was glorious!
I also think tempest in teapot. My objection is to Gygax and co took archaic dictionary words and invented unrelated meanings that drowned out the original (and fascinating) meanings in fandom.

A word like animarium is versatile. It can be used for the secret heart of a heartless immortal or the prison of a hapless victim.
 

Argyle King

Legend
Part of the challenge is finding a word which was a coolness factor (befitting a special item for a lich) but remains easy enough to pronounce and be used by a general audience.
 


Tormai

Villager
Paizo has discontinued the use of the word "phylactery" in its Pathfinder publications due to the word's origins as an item used in real-world religious customs.

I wish there was a better name than “soul cage”
I’m going to stick with phylactery no matter what Paizo chooses. Personally, the more changes I see occurring like this, the more I begin to question the unhealthy level of empathy being displayed. But that’s me and by no means indicative of anyone else, so feel free to disagree, I won’t mind.
 

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