Monday 27 January 2020

Hypocrites and Horse-Power

Image result for hippocratesThe English word hypocrite has a terribly simple etymology. It comes straight from the Ancient Greek hypokrites, which means actor, the kind you get on a stage, because hypocrites act all pious.

I was wondering what extra formations this might produce e.g. a fear of actors, if there is such a thing, ought to be hypocritephobia. And then a strange thought occurred to me: Hippocrates.

Hippocrates was the Father of Medicine. It is from him that we get the Hippocratic oath that doctors have to swear. Of course, it's got nothing to do with hypocrites. The hippo there is usually a horse - that's why a hippopotamus is a river-horse and a horse-racing arena is a hippodrome. And crat is usually power as in plutocrat, aristocrat, theocrat etc.

So, I thought, if my calculations are correct, Hippocrates was really Dr Horsepower.

This seemed hideously unlikely. But I have a cheat for all things classical. My next-door neighbour is a professor emeritus of classics. This is terribly useful to me as I get to pass off his wisdom as my own. So yesterday I seized m neighbour by the buttonhole and asked him straight out: Does Hippocrates mean horsepower?

'I don't see why not,' he replied. 'Yes. Go for it.'

Too good to be true.

'Although,' he added, 'it's more likely to mean horse-controller. But it could mean horsepower. Greek, Mark, is a very flexible language.'

So there it is: Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, was really Dr Horsepower.

Incidentally, the bit of the brain called the hippocampus is not, as is usually believed, a university for hippos. In fact, it's named after the seahorse because it sort-of-vaguely resembles one.

Image result for hippocampus

Hippo is horse and kampos means sea-monster. The original hippocampus was a horse-sea-monster that drew Neptune's chariot across the waves. Here is a rare photograph:

Image result for neptune's chariot
The Inky Fool decides not to take the train


  1. A few years ago I was waiting for a bus in Riga's Hipokrāta (Hippocrates street) iela (the site of one of Latvia's major hospitals) and I overheard two teenagers. One asked the other "I wonder who Hipokrāts was." The other replied, "I don't know. It's not a Latvian name - I expect he was Russian."

  2. Oh, wonderful! Another post. It always makes me laugh to think that darling, dainty little sea horses are called monsters!