The Prefix “Hypo” and Related Words

By Mark Nichol

A recent post listed and defined words with the Greek prefix hyper– (meaning “above,” “beyond,” or “over”). Here, words based on its antonym, hypo-, are the focus.

The most common words beginning with hypo– include hypodermic (literally, “under skin”), an adjective describing injection under the skin or tissue or growths beneath the skin (the word is also employed as a noun, and hypo is a common truncation), and hypothermia (“under heat”), the term for abnormally low body temperature.

Other medical conditions include hypoglycemia (“under sugar blood”)—colloquially known as “low blood sugar”—and hypochondria (“under cartilage”), mental depression in which the sufferer imagines physical ailments, so named from the original belief that such feelings originated in the abdominal organs; the term for the pathological state is hypochondriasis. Hypochondriac is both an adjective describing the condition and a noun pertaining to the sufferer.

Hypoallergenic means “unlikely to cause an allergic reaction,” and the hypothalamus is a key part of the brain that regulates automatic processes in the body. Oxygen deficiency is called hypoxia, and hypomania is a mild mania associated with bipolar disorder. (The respective adjectives are hypoxic and hypomanic.)

Other well-known words in the hypo– family are hypocrisy (“under decide”), which evolved in meaning in Greek from “sift” to “play a part” and now describes actions or attitudes that contradict one’s stated beliefs or opinions, and hypothesis (“under proposition”), which denotes something assumed and taken for granted for the sake of argument; the plural is hypotheses. One who demonstrates hypocrisy is deemed hypocritical and called a hypocrite. The adjectival form for hypothesis is hypothetical, and the verb form is hypothesize.

A hypotenuse is the side of a right triangle opposite the right angle. (The root word is the basis of tension and tenuous.)

More obscure terms in this group include hypocorism (“under caress”), meaning “pet name,” as in a diminutive like Bobby, a term of endearment such as honey, or baby-talk forms of address such as papa; such words are hypocoristic. One who lives underground is hypogean (the antonym is epigean), and a hypocaust is a chamber for lighting a fire to heat rooms located above. (The root is the same as that seen in holocaust.)

A disguised relation is hyphen—literally, “under one,” because the mark was originally located beneath the words to be connected.

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10 Responses to “The Prefix “Hypo” and Related Words”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Those people do not know what the phrase “adjectival form” is. Furthermore, they do not even know what the very simplest adjectival forms are: {Bengali, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Nepali, Omani, Pakistani, Qatari, Saudi, Yemeni},
    or {Czech, Dutch, English, German, Greek, Hindu, Irish, Polish, Saxon, Scottish, Swiss, Thai, Welsh},
    or {Algerian, Austrian, Bolivian, Colombian, Cuban, Dominican, Estonian, Formosan, Ghanan, Himalayan, Indonesian, Jamaican, Kenyan, Korean, Latvian, Libyan, Mandarin, Malaysian, Polynesian, Romanian, Russian, Siberian, Syrian, Tunisian, Ugandan, Venezuelan, Yugoslavian, Zambian}.
    I imagine that the next six to disappear will be {Australian, Burmese, Canadian, Ceylonese, French, and Siamese}.
    African, American, Asian, Arabian, European, Indian, and Arctic will probably be stubborn. These have to do with continents, subcontinents, oceans, and seas.
    Practically nobody knows what these mean anymore {Andean, Atlantean, Byelorussian, Caledonian, Cyrenaican, Hibernian, Hyperborean, Peloponnesian, Neapolitan, Sumerian}.
    Note that “Nepali” and “Nepalese” are synonyms, as are “Siamese” and “Thai”; and “Persian” and “Iranian”.
    I have been told that when one ask an Iranian what language he speaks, the answer amounts to “Persian”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Venqax, I agree with your reservations about using “hypochondriac” as an adjective. Doing so sounds just like what many nitwits do nowadays who do not know the difference is between an adjective and a noun. It should not be encouraged at all.
    Here is some of the worst of it, and the writers of the Associated Press are the worst of all. I have seen such glaring things as “a Mexico man”. How about “a Mexican man”? That is shocking, because Mexico is one of our next-door neighbors.

  • Dale A. Wood

    In chemistry and biology, there are the terms hypotonic, hypertonic, and isotonic for solutions, most often concerning semipermeable membranes. In a shameful way, the cosmetics industry has stolen some or all of these terms.
    Here is what they do: they toss around these scientific terms from chemistry, biology, and physics which 95 percent of the people do not know what they really mean. From physics: {shade, tint, tone, hue, saturation, luminous, radiant}. These all have clearly defined meaning in the sciences of colors and electromagnetic waves.
    To me, someone with “luminous skin” goes around glowing in the dark, just like the aliens in the film COCOON.

  • venqax

    If hypochondriac is an adjective, then where to use hypochondriacal? (That is pronounced hy-po-kon-DRY-i-k’l.) We do hear medical people use that term. To say someone’s behavior is hypochondriac, rather than hypochondriacal, doesn’t sound right at all. In fact, Grammarly just red-lined that use of hypocondriac without an ennouning* “a” or “the” before it.

    Yep. Making that up. “To make into a noun.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    For uncertain reasons, the message codebreaking center of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor had the code name of “Hypo”.
    Pacific Fleet intelligence was under a Captain Layton (later a real admiral), and the codebreaking subunit was under Cmdr. Rochefort. Hypo took intercepted Japanese Navy (IJN) radiotelegraph messages and tried to decipher them by hand – an extremely difficult task. There was no such thing as an electronic computer in 1941, and the JN-25 cipher was a very complicated one (Japanese Navy 25).
    Besides all of its radio receivers in Hawaii, Hypo got intercepted IJN messages from Alaska, Washington State, California, American Samoa, Australia, etc. That’s the way that shortwave radio communications work out: the messages can be received well at different places depending on the direction, the time of day, the month, and solar conditions.
    Pearl Harbor had the advantage of being connected to California by underwater telegraph cables. Hence, intercepts from the Americas could be sent to Hypo without the Japanese knowing what we had intercepted, and (partially) deciphered messages could be sent in total secrecy to the naval HQ in Washington, D.C. The IJN never had a clue that we were deciphering some of their radio messages.
    A long time ago, the expression “Hypo” was so obscure to me that I thought that the writers meant “Hypno”.
    That’s a nice idea: hypnotize the Japanese and find out what their secrets were!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Two extremes of the political spectrum are the hyperright and the hyperleft. In either case, they are hyperradical or hyperextreme. Someone very much in between would be a hypermoderate.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The word “hyperbolic” has more than one meaning.
    A. Hyperbolic is “full of hyperboles”. In other words, a gross number of exaggerations. A prevaricator of the extreme.
    B. Hyperbolic is something that has to do with one of the conic sections, the hyperbola. In astronomy and astronautics, the four basic kinds of trajectories are circular, elliptical, hyperbolic, and parabolic.
    Leaving the Solar System on a hyperbolic trajectory is really the way to go!
    C. Hyperbolic geometry is related to “B”. There are two basic types of non-Euclidean geometry: hyperbolic and elliptical (spherical).

  • Dale A. Wood

    hypoventilation, hypoaqueous (not enough water), hypocorporeal.

  • Dale A. Wood

    more words with hyper:
    hyperfanatical, hyperfascist, hypergeometric, hyper-Nazi (a deeply deranged worshiper of Adolf Hitler), hyperreligious.

  • Dale A. Wood

    More words with “hypo”:
    hypobaric, hypofanatic, hypospray, hypotonic, hypothyroid(ism), hypoverbal

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