According to The American Heritage Dictionary, the noun “vernacular” is defined as, 1. “The native language of a country or region, esp. as distinct from literary language.” (I’m not sure where that leaves Faulkner, one of Dad’s literary heroes.) 2. “The nonstandard or substandard everyday speech of a country or region.” (It’s definitely nonstandard, but more like superstandard than substandard.) 3. “The idiom of a particular trade or profession.” (I’m pretty sure most retired dentists don’t talk like Dad does.) 4. “An idiomatic word, phrase, or expression.” (Or, manner of speech in general?) 5. The commonly used name of a plant or animal as distinguished from the taxonomic designation.” (While they don’t necessarily pertain to plants or animals, Dad’s got dozens of unique terms in his vocabulary, so much so that I find myself interpreting his speech into ordinary English for the uninitiated. For example, in explaining to a cardiologist the chain of events of a heart attack a few months ago, Dad talked about how the “gut wagon” had taken him to the hospital. Blank look on the doctor’s face. Translation: ambulance.)
As many of us did, my parents received innumerable phone calls during the recent election campaign cycle, and Dad was kvetching to me repeatedly about these political calls. I suggested he not answer them, since he has caller ID and can choose to answer a call coming from a unfamiliar number or whose identity is clearly the RNC or whoever. No, no, no passive aggression for him. He would answer, hoping it’s a warm body on the other end and not just a robo-call, so that he could “lay them out in velvet in the common vernacular.” What, exactly, he would say to the hapless volunteer on the other end of the line, he never specified, but I can imagine it went something like, “Sonny, (or Honey, depending), have you no self-respect? Working for those whores in Washington, pestering decent, elderly citizens in their homes at all hours of the day, trying to scare them with misinformation and lies so they will vote for your candidate? Do you think we can’t read, can’t make up our own minds about the issues? You know, most of us worked for a living and paid our taxes and kept our noses clean so that we could enjoy a comfortable retirement and pass along some of that prosperity to our children and grandchildren. But now, because of the irresponsible, no, criminal actions of those sons-a-bitches, your candidate included, in Washington, we are leaving our grandchildren a legacy of debt from which they will never extract themselves without great deprivation, or a bloody revolution. And you want me to tell you I’ll vote for that prattling fool who’s nothing but a damned politician that would say anything to get elected?” You get the idea. So, “lay them out in velvet” (think, corpse) is a phrase Dad uses for slaying someone with words. The “common vernacular” is not so common, but it is particular to him and the rest of the world be damned. Of course, his approach didn’t stop the phone calls or even slow them down, but it served to amuse him and fire up his passions, which is what keeps life interesting for all of us, at any age.