Stickybeak’s Lexicon. Hobbledehoy. A new, old word for life’s awkward phase.

Stickybeak’s Lexicon

Expanding my vocabulary one word at a time


Some words just scream old fashioned and today’s candidate for the Lexicon is one such. I came across hobbledehoy lurking on the page of an Aldous Huxley novel ‘Antic Hay’; the novel was published in 1923, so it is quite possible that it was still in regular use then. To my mind though, hobbledehoy would seem very much more at home in a descriptive passage of an Austin, or in one of Pepys’ disparaging diary entries.


A hobbledehoy is, and this is how Mr Huxley employed the word, a clumsy or awkward youth; a stripling (another great word); basically, a youth who is neither man nor boy.


I was trying to come up with a more contemporary equivalent in the ‘youth’ vein; my (admittedly quick) brain storm yielded only ‘yoof’, which is an uncomfortable and ugly-looking word. Perfect, you might say, for its intended subject. Roget is more forthcoming and offers laddie, sonny, urchin, nipper, whippersnapper and yob(bo). None of these quite fits the bill in the same way as hobbledehoy, which seems to encapsulate the uncomfortable, gangly, mumbling, awkwardness of adolescence; the ‘hobble’ conjuring up a great big lolloping teen coming to terms with his size ten trotters. Disappointingly it doesn’t quite describe the shifty looking boys who hang around street corners of an evening pooling lakes of spit on the pavement. Perhaps I’ll come across a new word for them too.


I rather like the fact that you can enter a phase of life called hobbledehoyhood, (just try saying that out loud without a smile on your face). I’d like to describe a character as looking hobbledehoyish, but would it make sense today?


The dictionary suggests that hobbledehoy hails form around the sixteenth century, origin unknown, which is rather apt I think for those it describes: they often look lost as they shuffle around, probably with no idea of where they might be heading. Hmm, that pretty much sums up my own hobbledehoyhood.


© flyingscribbler 2011


2 comments on “Stickybeak’s Lexicon. Hobbledehoy. A new, old word for life’s awkward phase.

  1. John Wiswell says:

    If we could muster the will for polysyllabic slang, hobbledehoy would deserve to make a comeback. What an ugly-looking word.

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