Yesterday’s posting about hippocracy mentioned that Greek hippos meant ‘horse.’ English hippo is an informal shortening of hippopotamus, a Latin word that Spanish has carried over as hipopótamo. The Romans borrowed their compound word from Greek, where the second element meant ‘rushing water, river.’ As a result, a hippopotamus/hipopótamo is figuratively ‘a river horse.’ People don’t race hippos but they do race horses, and a hipódromo/hippodrome is, particularly with reference to Greek and Roman times, ‘a racetrack for horses.’ The word can also mean ‘an arena for equestrian performances,’ and even more generally ‘a performance hall.’ From 1905 to 1939 the New York Hippodrome was a famous theater; there in 1918 the magician Harry Houdini made not a hippo but an elephant disappear from the stage in front of an astonished audience.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

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  1. Trackback: eos « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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