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Getting hyper

On the way back from grocery shopping today, I saw a car in front of me whose rear window bore a decal saying “HYPERLITE” in a hard-to-read font, so that I initially thought it said “HYPOCRITE.”  I went through an intermediate moment when I thought it said “HYPERCRITE,” and that got me wondering: what would a hypercrite be?

Hypo- and hyper- are opposites despite their very similar sounds, because the Ancient Greeks evidently thought it would be funny to play a prank on inattentive people down through the ages.  Hypo- means below, hyper- means above.  For instance, hypotension is low blood pressure and hypertension is high blood pressure.   So if a hypocrite is someone who acts falsely or insincerely, what would the opposite extreme from that be?  What would a hypocrite be below?  What is -crite?  Hypocritical, hypocrisy… it sounds like the same root as in “crisis” or “critical,” which suggests decision, judgment.  Is a hypocrite literally someone with diminished judgment?  Let’s find out.  To the dictionary!


[C13: from Old French ipocrite, via Late Latin, from Greek hupokritēs one who plays a part, from hupokrinein to feign, from krinein to judge]

early 13c., from O.Fr. ypocrite (Mod.Fr. hypocrite ), from Church L. hypocrita , from Gk. hypokrites “stage actor, pretender, dissembler,” from hypokrinesthai (see hypocrisy).

Okay… so I guess the idea is that krinein is to judge or distinguish, so someone playing the part of someone else is “below” being distinguishable, i.e. diminishing the distinction between oneself and the person one is pretending to be.  Their true self is below the threshold of discernment from the role they’re putting on.

So a “hypercrite” would thus have to be someone who’s more than usually distinct from other people, if taken literally.  In the modern sense, though, if a hypocrite is someone whose true beliefs and values are suppressed or hidden, then a hypercrite would have to be someone who is completely, even excessively open about one’s true thoughts and feelings — someone who can’t hide one’s opinion even if there’s good reason to.  Sort of like Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar, though there’s got to be a less annoying example.

That was fun, let’s try another one!  What about hypochondria?  What would a hyperchondriac be?  Chondr-, chondr-… that root sounds familiar, but I can’t think what it means.  So again, to the dictionary!


1839, “illness without a specific cause,” earlier (1668) “depression or melancholy without real cause,” earlier still (1373) ypocandria “upper abdomen,” from L.L. hypochondria “the abdomen,” from Gk. hypochondria (neut. pl.), from hypo- “under” (see sub-) + chondros “cartilage” (of the breastbone). Reflecting ancient belief that the viscera of the hypochondria were the seat of melancholy. Hypochondriac (n.) in modern sense first recorded 1888.

Oh, that’s no fun.  It’s just the name of a part of the body that was traditionally associated with melancholy.  So “hyperchondria” wouldn’t have any real meaning except maybe for another part of the body.  You can’t really postulate it as an antonym of the tendency to imagine being ill.

Oh, well, they can’t all be winners.

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