What's in a Word: Hypocrite

(How low can you go?)

     Yes, you heard right: What we call actors, the ancient Greeks called hypocrites. But why? Because actors are hypocrites for pretending to be people that they really aren't?
     "But," you say, "of course that's why they called them hypocrites. Why else would they?"
     For the same reasons we call physicians doctors, a species a race, and the internet a cloud: Words very often have multiple meanings that are only tangentially related to their original meanings. A doctor was, originally, a "person who has earned the highest academic degree, usually a PhD, awarded by a college or university in a specified discipline", whereas a physician was "any person who treats diseases; a healer". We wisely trust our health to only those who've attained the loftiest of educational degrees, doctors, so we've come to call all physicians doctors. And, indeed, they are. But doctors are no more physicians than rectangles are squares.
     And this, alone, is why Greeks called actors hypocrites, a word which, only through custom and use, acquired its later meaning. Originally, it meant ... well, let's take those steps together, shall we?
     As I keep repeating, we must always read very carefully. Holy writ is legally precise in its use of language. This is the lesson which Heinrich Schliemann taught us when he found what has now been generally acknowledged to be the city of Troy using his then revolutionary tactic of Careful Reading. This is why we must research the meaning of every word left us by the ancients, and especially those left us by the prophets.
     All of our words descend to us from the few, most ancient languages known to man. They may have taken a circuitous route down multiple branches of the family tree of human tongues, but, fortunately for us, all of these hail from only a few: Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, and, for us, largely Nesite, the language of the Hittites. Yes, Hittites, as in Uriah, the Hittite as much as murdered by King David in order to cover his adultury with his subordinate's wife, and resulting pregnancy. Today, we'd call it a rape.
     Anyway, let's start picking the word apart. As I've said before, English, too, is really an agglutinative language, where every word is composed of syllables, syllables which were, once, themselves words in other languages. And the word, hypocrite, is no exception, even though linguistic experts, too, get this one wrong. (They really need to stop taking the Greeks' word for their ... words. The Greeks often had no better idea where their words came from than the Egyptians had where the pyramids came from.) (And we see proof of this repeatedly, with many of their words, even words which practically define Greece, like ... Olympus!)
     The first syllable, hypo, should be well known to you. You hear it in words like hypodermic (beneath the epidermis), hypochondria (beneath the cartilage) (AHA! Fooled you there, too, eh?), and hypoallergenic (low [NOT no] probability of inducing an allergic reaction).
     In every case, the syllables, hypo, refer to something under, beneath, below, or just low.
     Now, for the second syllable: crite. And, no, it didn't come from hypokrinesthai. That's what it became. We see this root today in words like crucial, crisis, and criteria. And the meaning has to do with amounts, levels, and standards.
     Together they add up to something that falls below measure, sub standard, a low-life.
     Yes, that's right, Christ wasn't just calling the Pharisees and Sadducees actors, pretenders. As with his parables, which famously had more than one level of meaning, so, too, did his insults. In this case, there was the added meaning of low-life.
     And, let's face it, this is the real reason Greeks called their actors hypocrites, because, even in ancient Greece, as throughout all of human history, and especially today, actors are low-lifes. Just read the Daily Mail, People, or US. Just listen to them talk at any of their self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing awards parties.
     Because that's just what they were: Those with low levels of eternal life, poster-children for the "poor in spirit".
     This is where I tell you that Joseph Smith once defined Mormon as meaning more good, even walking the group around him at the moment through the syllables of that name. What is no longer immediately obvious to the casual reader is that he was being sarcastic. He was cracking wise at the expense of the experts and their assertions of the meanings of words.
     You have to do a lot of reading, careful reading, get to know Joseph's personality, his wit, and his attitude toward worldly experts.
     Joseph was my kind of guy.

~~ Marcus Aurelius ~~