hai-pê-kahn-dree-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Melancholy, low spirits, depression. 2. (Medicine: plural of hypochondrium) The regions of either side of the abdomen just below the lower ribs. 3. The persistent conviction and complaint—if not enjoyment—of illness despite the absence of symptoms.
Notes: Hypochondria started out as a plural and the medical term referring to the upper stomach still is. In the general vocabulary, however, it is now a mass noun with no plural. A person who suffers from hypochondria is a hypochondriac, a word which also serves as the adjective, as a hypochondriac patient.
In Play: Because the ancients considered the hypochondrium the seat of the humor causing melancholy, it has long been associated with depression: "Myrtle Crepe has been suffering from a deep hypochondria since the dog dug up her rose bushes." Most often, however, it refers to someone who constantly complains of imaginary illnesses: "Dr. Bill M. High specializes in hypochondria, which keeps his overhead very low."
Word History: Today's word comes to us from Greek hypokhondria, the plural of hypokhondrion "abdomen". This noun is the neuter of the adjective hypokhondrios "under the cartilage (of the breastbone)", a compound made up of hypo- "below, under" + khondros "lump, groats, cartilage". Khondros is based on a root that came down to English as grind, grist, grounds, and groats. The same root turns up in Latin frendere "to grind" which produced a noun frenum "bridle", on which horses ground their teeth. This noun was then 'verbalized' as refrenare "to restrain", which was borrowed by English as the verb to refrain, a kind of bridling.
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