The person with the most nicknames might be my mom, which makes sense since Dad has known her longer than almost anyone. As far as I can tell her first nickname was “Snake,” short for “Snake Hips.” She was really slender when she was young, and I can remember him calling her that when I was a little kid.
At some point, probably when I was in middle school, he started calling her “Opal.” Mom did not like this nickname, as its origin is a funny, but sexist joke that goes something like this: An old Kentuck and his buddy were sitting around a campfire drinking moonshine and telling lies while watching the comings and goings of Opal, the Kentuck’s wife. Opal was frying fish over the campfire and otherwise waiting on the men hand and foot, whenever her husband would call her over. “Opal, bring us some more whiskey!” “Opal, come pull off my boots!” “Opal, come throw some wood on this fire!” After a while, the frying fish smelled a little too hot to the Kentuck, and he called, “Opal, come turn these here fish!” Opal complied by hurrying over with the spatula and flipping the fish over. They were black underneath. “Well,” remarked the Kentuck to his friend, “reckon I should have called her sooner.” Even though she didn’t like it at first, the name “Opal” stuck, and my mom learned to live with it. She is nothing if not a good sport.
“The Dowager” is another moniker that Dad has hung on my mom, probably in the last twenty years. I think he just likes the word and likes teasing my mom about getting older and the likelihood that she will outlive him and inherit the “estate.” My efforts to convince him that this nickname is illogical since he is still alive have been in vain.
In one of my early posts I asserted that my dad isn’t acquiring new material for his vernacular, but that is not entirely true. He keeps his ear to the ground and adopts new lexicon when it suits him. An example is the most recent nickname that he has bestowed on my mom: “Lady Gaga.” Where he learned about Lady Gaga, I can only guess. The Today Show? Anyway, it’s not because of her singing voice or her outlandish costumes. It’s just that my mom has dementia and is kind of ga-ga, and she’s the first to recognize that her brain doesn’t work as well as it used to. But her grand sense of humor is still intact, and she can laugh at herself, and she still thinks my dad is funny (sometimes) after more than 57 years of marriage.
I’ll get back to nicknames, I promise, but my husband just enlightened me about a word my dad has used forever and whose etymology I had never questioned: “torps.” As in, “Hey, Vinegar, run to the store and buy me a pack of torps.” And, I would dutifully pedal my bike to the Red Owl grocery store to buy Camels. Yes, back in the olden days, parents would send their kids to the store (with $.75) to buy cigarettes. “Torps” is a word I grew up with, and I’ve always known what it meant, but where did that term come from? According to my husband, it’s short for “lung torpedoes.” Makes sense, sort of along the line of “coffin nails,” which always pops into my mind first as “coughin’ nails.” I’d love to learn of any other slang terms for cigarettes that you know of.
You may have gathered from other posts, my five-or-so dear readers, that my dad also enjoys his gin martinis. Naturally, he has some choice words to refer to this old friend as well. “Silver bullet” is the most common term of endearment he uses. He prefers Fleischmann’s gin for the same reason that I prefer Usher’s Scotch: it’s cheap and it gets the job done. This pithy assessment is not original to Dad or me; it comes from one of Dad’s late and witty friends, Alan Hughes, who was asked why he drank rum. Dad has rather strong opinions about martinis, as you can imagine. First of all, a martini is made with gin, not vodka. He eschews with disgust the “dirty martini” and calls Bombay Sapphire gin “Sani-Flush,” even though it’s just the bottle that’s blue, not the gin. He’ll choke down Beefeaters if he has to, but considers Tanqueray and any other premium brands of gin effete affectations of amateur drinkers. Likewise, pickled onions or mushroom garnishes. After all, one must follow the forms; we are not barbarians.
I said I would write about nicknames, so I’m going to start. This is actually rather a broad and deep topic with my Dad, so it will take several posts to cover everything. I’ll start with my own nicknames.
I’ve rarely heard my dad use my real name, even when talking to others about me, which figures, because Dad always just assumes that everyone speaks his lingo. For years he most often referred to me as “Vinegar.” I think the story goes that my dad’s uncle Mart (aka Julius Garfinkel the Fairy Godfather or Uncle Julius) dubbed me Vinegar when I was a baby because I was crying and making such a sour face. However, Uncle Mart never called me Vinegar to my face; he always called me Linament. But, to my dad I was Vinegar, or Vinegar Ben Maisel, for long. Dad often will elaborate on his nicknames rather than shorten them. A Google search tells me that Vinegar Ben Maisel was a longtime San Jose high school baseball coach, but that connection seems really out of left field, pardon the pun. I will have to inquire further. He also called me “Weiner,” and I have no idea why. Or “Sis,” most recently he calls me “Sis.” Maybe I’ve finally outgrown “Vinegar.” For the record, my mom has never called me any of these names. She calls me Lynn.
I know I said I was going to write about nicknames, and I will. But another aspect of Dad’s vernacular has occurred to me over the past few days, and I want to write these expressions down before I forget them. Yes, my memory stinks, and I’m not disciplined about jotting stuff down when it comes to mind. I can think of at least three figures of speech that Dad uses, none of which I’ve ever heard uttered by anyone else, that have to do with tools and/or machining. Not surprising, given that one of Dad’s first jobs was as a welder in a boiler factory. His father taught machining and industrial arts and was a master toolmaker, so Dad learned a lot of these skills at his father’s knee. However, when Dad told his father that he wanted to be a machinist, Grandpa discouraged him in no uncertain terms. Why did he want to sentence himself to working for lousy wages at a job where he’d always have to answer to the boss, his hands would always be dirty and he’d be surrounded by men that had nothing more to look forward to in life than drinking beer at the bar at the end of a long, dirty day of work? Deflated by this characterization of his dream and probably a little pissed off at his dad, even though he knew he was right, my dad decided to become a dentist, an honest enough trade at which he could ply his talented hands, make a good living and live up to his father’s hopes for him. That all worked out pretty well for Dad, and in later years he often remarked about how smart his old man had been. What goes around comes around. Anyway, back to these turns of phrase I was mentioning, all of which are truly inspiring insults to be applied at the appropriate moment to the appropriate subject.
1. He’s so dumb, if you ran a bit through his head, you’d get dry shavings the whole way.
2. He’s so dumb, he doesn’t know if his asshole is punched or bored.
3. He’s a 17-jeweled horse’s ass, with holes drilled for more.
Post more of these if you’ve got them!