Printable Version
Pronunciation: pah-tê-mah-fê-lês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Loving rivers, river-loving.

Notes: A lovely susurrous river.Today's Good Word is clearly related to hippopotamus; that is because this word comprises the Greek stems for "horse" hippos and "river" potamos. This latter stem also resides in several other words referring to rivers, including potamography, the geographic study of rivers and potamometer, the instrument for measuring river currents. If you are potamophilous, you are a potamophile and that particular love is known as potamophilia. (Remember the A is always between two Os.) Before you even ask, the name of the Potomac River is not evidence that Greeks first settled Washington, DC, even if the gobbledygook emanating from there today sounds like Greek to you (see Word History). Potomac was the name of an Algonquian village long vanished that may have meant "something brought".

In Play: Despite the ostensible implication, your river does not have to contain hippopotamuses for you to wax potamophilous: "The Pennsylvania Potamophilous Society will hold a riparian repast by the susurrous Susquehanna River on Saturday, April 1 at 5 in the afternoon." If you go, you might catch sight of other potamophilous creatures such as a muskrat or a beaver.

Word History: The root of potamos is Proto-Indo-European *pot-/pet- "fly, flow". In potamos it means "that which flows", but the same root with the suffix -er turns up in Greek pteron "wing", found in pterodactyl "wing-finger". In Russian it is found with the common Russian suffix -ica in ptica "bird". We also find it in Sanskrit pattram "feather, leaf" and, finally, with the suffix -er again, in English feather, a coincidence that led to Dr. Goodword's article "How is a Hippo like a Feather?"

Dr. Goodword,

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