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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

A frosty Friday

This time of year, we sometimes see hoarfrost in the mornings. Hoar in Old English meant “old” – a sense which still survives in the phrase “a hoary old joke”. From meaning “old”, hoar came to mean “grey-haired from age” and then simply “greyish-white”. The frost that forms on trees looked to the Anglo-Saxons like white hair on the head, so they called it “hoarfrost”.
I was talking about this word to some friends and was quite surprised to learn that they thought it was a fairly obscure word that they themselves wouldn't use. Perhaps this is because hoarfrost is not a very frequent meteorological phenomenon in Toronto. I didn't ask them what word they would use when it does happen. But I'm curious: is "hoarfrost" part of your active vocabulary? If not, what would you call the white frosty stuff that forms on trees and grass? Let me know in the new, improved, easy-to-use (I hope) comment field.
See also the results of my inquiry into the declining popularity of this word in my post "Hoarfrost in a downward spiral".

1 comment:

  1. I usually say frost. Although I have heard the word; haoarfrost.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.