What’s a hoyden?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute.

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: hoyden.

I read the novel Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger when I was about 13-years-old. I enjoyed it moderately, as I recall, although I remember being uncertain what all the fuss had been about. It didn’t seem to be a groundbreaking novel to me. (Perhaps this is because I would have read it in 1971 and it was published in 1951, when society was far more buttoned-down.)

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for Rye caused me to overlook Franny & Zooey, also by Salinger. I corrected the omission late last year. Originally published in 1961 in the New Yorker as two separate (but long) short stories, the book conveys the spiritual and emotional upheavals of college student Franny Glass — with support from her brother, Zooey, in ’50s New York.

A bit of a time capsule, the book is rather outdated right now but it does capture the tone and feeling of a certain time, for a certain class of person, in New York city. The book also gave me my word of the week, hoyden. Here’s how the author used it:

In this distinctly Manhattanesque locale, Mrs. Glass was (from an undeniably hoyden point of view) a rather refreshing eyesore.

I’d never before heard the term, hoyden, but it refers to a boisterous or bold, and carefree young woman, often a tomboy. The word dates back to the 1590s and is of unknown origin. Some think, perhaps, it came from the Dutch heiden, meaning a “rustic, uncivilized person.” It often carries a value judgement with it, implying that the woman is “ill-bred.” It strikes me this interpretation may have made more sense in 1961 than it does today.

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