Word: vernacular

Pronunciation: vər-NA-kyə-lər

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people of a country or region

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Richard: You guys see me as a dad?

Joey: Oh yeah!

Chandler: No!

Joey: (seeing the look on Chandler’s face) Nooooo.

Chandler: You’re just clearly not familiar with our young person’s vernacular. See, when we say “dad”, we mean “buddy”. We mean “pal”. […] No no, seriously! Joey’s my dad. Monica’s my dad. I’ve even got some dads down at work.

Friends (Season 2, Episode 20 – The One Where Old Yeller Dies)

The first (if not the only) instance in which I can remember hearing the word “vernacular” was in an old episode of Friends. After Joey lets slip that Monica’s boyfriend Richard is like a father to him and Chandler, the latter tries to cover up the mistake by insisting it’s a slang word for “friend”. Naturally Richard doesn’t buy this lie, but that doesn’t make him telling the guys he’s leaving to have a romantic evening with their other “dad” any less funny.

The “vernacular” of a particular region is the dialect normally spoken by its people. With a modifier, “vernacular” refers to the terminology used by a specific group of people or those who engage in a particular activity. The word comes from the Latin adjective vernaculus, meaning “domestic” or “native”. This adjective has historical roots in the noun verna, which means “house slave”.

Interestingly, the word “vernacular” isn’t exclusive to language; it can also refer to architecture that is “concerned with domestic and functional rather than monumental building”. Note that in both these contexts, the word can function as either a noun or an adjective. An example of the latter would be “vernacular literature”, in which case the word means “spoken or written using one’s mother tongue”. Whether you choose to use it formally (as in the above definitions) or informally (as in the dialogue example), this can be a great word to include in your stories. At the very least, your readers may find it easiest to relate to your writing through your “vernacular”!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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