Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

I was getting my kids ready for school last week when my fourteen-year-old came in with a series of questions. First he wanted to know whether <hypocrite> is a Greek or a Latin word, so I asked him what his thinking was on that. He explained to me that he thought the word was Greek because of the medial <y>, but <crite> sounded more like Latin to him than Greek. He proceeded to ask whether it is possible to have a word which is part Greek and part Latin. I told him that I wasn't sure about that, but I knew that several words of Greek origin were first adopted into Latin and then from Latin came into English so they might have been "Latinized'.  My son then wanted to know what the word mean by way of morpheme analysis since <hypo means 'low' as in<hypothermia > versus <hyperthermia>. He already knows that a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be who or what he is not but he wanted to know whether the word implies 'low in character or morality'. I thought that was possible. He also wanted to know what the final <e> was doing in the word and I told him that it might actually be part of a suffix so he had to look at it carefully. From then on he went "hypo + crite"; "crite",  "oh crite - critic !" Out of 'critic' he and his brothers started calling out 'critic, critical, critically, criticize, hypocritic, hypocritical '. It was a noisy morning but good. I learned that all of this was provoked because his eleven-year-old brother was looking for the word <hypocrite> and couldn't find it because he spelled it with <i> instead of <y>.

After dropping them off at school, I decided to take on <hypocrite> on my own since I hadn't considered the connection between <hypocrite, hypocritical> and <critic & critical> until that morning.  I started from Etymology online which gave the following:

c.1200, ypocrite, from O.Fr. ypocrite (12c., Mod.Fr. hypocrite), from Church L. hypocrita, from Gk. hypokrites
"stage actor, pretender, dissembler," from hypokrinesthai (see hypocrisy).

I realized my idea that the original Greek word might have travelled through Latin before coming into English was right. But it turns out that we didn't get it directly from Latin but from French. I took note of the definition and followed the link to <hypocrisy>. This lead me to <crisis> and then <criterion> and back to <critic>. From Etymology online and two other dictionaries, it was clear that the Greek root in all these words is <krinein> which means to separate, judge, sift, or decide.  <Critic> is given as <kritikos → kri(nein) + t(es) + ikos>; <kri + tes → krit(es)> , <krites> means "judge". From these listings, I thought that there are two bases <kri /krit> which  become <cri / crit> in English because <crisis> is given as <krisis → kri (nein) + sis> while <hypocrite> is given as <hypo + krit(es)>. So a " 'critic' is someone who is skilled in judging or able to make judgements".  The basic meaning of judgement, a standard, or a point of decision (as in crisis) in all these words was not difficult to grasp.

However,   I am having difficulty with the denotation of <hypocrite>. I expected the meaning of 'low, less than or beneath' from the prefix <hypo>  like my son was thinking, but I don't find that in all the citations: a stage actor, one who plays a part in Greek to one who pretends in Latin. In Greek it was a theatrical term, while in Latin it was a religious one (pretended sanctity). It is clear that if you're playing someone on stage, you're pretending to be who you are not!  But I can't find the idea of judge, or separate in the meaning as it is given. For instance, if <hypercritical> means being overly critical or judgemental, shouldn't <hypocritcal> convey the idea of low  in terms of judgement or criticism?  I know I am missing something which is why I am failing to connect the dots. Were the actors judged? Maybe I am being too literal. Any help, please!!

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