Hoary and Other Unmentionable Words

I recently came across the word “hoary” in a reference to carrots. It gave me the shivers. I mean, I’d just read a picture book called Creepy Carrots, which I definitely recommend for its humor and cleverness. But the image of hoary carrots, so old that they contained a surface of white fuzz wasn’t funny or clever, just creepy, in the worst sense. (Creepy can be suspenseful and exciting).
My sister has a half dozen words that give her the creeps. “Dank” and “moist” score high on her list. For me, “hoary” gets top honors.
Maybe it comes too close to who I am, old and white, ahem, when I’m delayed getting to my colorist and hair dresser, Peggy. But the word does conjure the preadolescent sense of humor, so homophonic with the unmentionable term “whore,” although in my preadolescence, I probably didn’t know that word. My friends and I (in the fifties) were still joking about saying “Amster–dam,” because the last syllable was soooo naughty. Why does my innocence embarrass me? Because as a preadolescent, I sound so naïve, so out of it, so hoary?
But the word “hoary” is problematic, too, if used in a book for children or teens. It’s so conspicuous and uncommon that it could draw a reader out of the story
But most writers I know agree with me that it can be a very good thing to introduce a new word to readers. Recently, I reread Meg Rosoff’s young adult and Printz-winning novel, How I Live Now and was blown away once again by her vocabulary and voice. Meg could use “hoary” in a second and get away with it. So why can’t I? All it takes is courage and confidence. Ah, confidence—that’s where I fail.


About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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