Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A frosty reception

So how many times have you wanted to describe what could lengthily be described as "a grayish-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor formed in clear still weather on vegetation, fences, etc" ?  Just think of the countless times people have come in late to work because they were busy scraping a grayish-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor formed in clear still weather off their windshields.  (This excuse not valid in August in Maryland, although some will try it out.)

I bring this up because on TV not long ago, a weather person used the correct meteorological term to describe this grayish-white etc to the news person and the news person about flipped out.  Because, that frozen stuff is known to dictionary readers as "hoarfrost."

I'll tell you another perfectly good English word that just does not get used because it would make people giggle if it did, and that's "hoary."  Dickens used that word a lot, and it was only a couple of centuries old when he did. It started in the 1510's, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (best not to argue with that) and it descends from the Old English word "har" meaning "gray, venerable, old" and so we came to use "hoary" for something old and "hoarfrost" for that frozen junk on the windshield of the Biscayne that is grey, like the beard or hair of an old man.   Still, middle schoolers, I cannot recommend that you point out to your elders that they certainly do "look hoary" today.  I can tell you from sad experience, people won't get it.

There's a certain Bart Simpson-ish delight we all get from being asked what we talked about in Sunday School ("Hell! Hell! We talked about Hell!") and from looking forward to days of having a sore throat because it enabled (me) to ask for another horehound cough drop. Turns out, horehound is an Old World bitter perennial mint (Marrubium vulgare) used for making cough drops and me chortle. 

So now, we're finished with the snickering over words, as long as I don't have to go to a doctor and be told there's something wrong with my coccyx.


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