Printable Version
Pronunciation: hai-pêr-trê-fi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: 1. An unusual enlargement of a cell, tissue or an organ. 2. Overgrowth of anything, as 'the hypertrophy of housing in Denver'.

Notes: The antonym of most words beginning in hyper- is hypo- and there it is: hypotrophy "subnormal growth". However, a more exact antonym of this word is atrophy "reduction in the size of cells, tissues or organs" such as often comes with ageing. All these words may be used as verbs, and the adjective of today's word is hypertrophic.

In Play: The literal sense of this word is restricted to medical vocabulary: "The patient died of cardiac hypertrophy." However, the figurative use of this word has crept into the general vocabulary: "Congressional paralysis is caused by the atrophy of the legislative branch driving a corresponding hypertrophy of the executive branch." Don't forget the verbal use of this word: "Dependency on electricity has hypertrophied in cities."

Word History: Greek atrophia meant "wasting away". Latin borrowed this word, simply transliterating it and passed it down to French. English picked it up from French in the first part of the 19th century. Hyper- came from the same PIE source as Latin super-, borrowed by English, too. PIE (s)uper is thought to have been a suffixed form of sub "(out from) under". The Fickle S paved the way for Germanic words like English over and German über. Greek inherited the initial S, but quickly converted it into H, the fate of so many other words in Greek. Trophia is a combining form of trophe "food, nourishment", from trephein "to fatten up". No one knows how this word made it into Greek. (Sue Gold, our friend and long-time contributor at Westtown School, shared today's Good Word from her hypertrophied vocabulary.)

Dr. Goodword,

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