The previous 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 hipopótamo/hippopotamus 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; it was there in 1918 that the magician Harry Houdini made not a hippo but an elephant disappear from the stage in front of an astonished audience.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Dec 18, 2014 @ 19:59:22

    I’d never read the history of the Hippodrome – quite interesting. I’d love to know how Houdini got that elephant to disappear.

    One of Liberia’s most special creatures is the pygmy hippopotamus. They’re endangered, not only because of over-hunting and loss of habitat, but also because of those horrid civil wars. But, populations have been found, and some are being bred in captivity, so it seems they will survive for the time being. I only saw them once, myself — a pair, in the St. John River. They’re amazing creatures, and not nearly so intimidating as their larger relatives.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 18, 2014 @ 22:56:34

      I’m not sure I’ve heard of the pygmy hippopotamus, but I see the species name for it is liberiensis, meaning ‘from Liberia.’ The country may not have preserved the liberty it was named for, but let’s hope those animals retain the liberty to survive.


  2. kathryningrid
    Dec 21, 2014 @ 22:36:37

    I’m just as happy as a hippo, reading this. Happy holidays to you and yours, Steve, and may 2015 treat you kindly all through!


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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