Thursday, November 8, 2018

When hippos fly

When hippos fly

Most all of us have heard that the word hippopotamus means river horse, & it does. What most of us don’t know is that -potamus (the part that means river) comes from a word meaning rushing water which came from a root word meaning to rush or fly

From the meaning to rush or fly feather was born, as was pinnate (feather-shaped), pinion (wing joint), & pterodactyl (wing-finger). Stretch your imagination a bit further (imagine someone swaggering with a fancy feather on his/her hat), & the word panache makes sense. Imagine the pointy part of a feather pen, & you see why pin & pen share a root This meaning also gave us pinnacle (pointed peak),& pinniped (fin or pin-footed sea mammal).

Some of this root’s to fly-related progeny include ornithopter & helicopter.

But along with meaning to fly, this root meant to rush, which morphed into words meaning to rush in, to grasp, to desire. From these we get the words: petition, appetite, centripetal, compete, perpetual, impetus & impetuous.

Because what goes up must come down, & this root is all about flying, it also gave us the words symptom, & ptomaine.

Who knew?

Please be kind enough to use the comments section to let me know what was most surprising in all this.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.


  1. So does it remain mysterious why some of those words got their "P's" silenced and wedded to "t's"? The words Ptomaine and Pterodactyl have always intrigued me. They seem purposely misleading. And hilarious.

    1. Dearest Miss Allen -- Misleading? Purposely? Our lovely language? Absolutely. Thanks for coming by.

    2. And what of the ptarmigan, which also needs love and attention.

  2. Hey Steve - it appears ptarmigan comes from a Gaelic source. The P got added so it looked more like an academically acceptable word (the spelling got "Greekified") - - but this doesn't change the fact that the ptarmigan (as you noted), needs love & attention.