What does the word "hypostatize" mean?

I have read various dictionary definitions, with examples, but I'm not sure I understand them.

For example, Merriam-Webster:

hypostatized; hypostatizing
transitive verb
: to attribute real identity to (a concept)

Greek hypostatos substantially existing,

A comment below this question said it comes into English via "hypostatic".

Different people use hypostatic/hypostatis in different ways -- Wikipedia for example suggests it has a perplexingly diverse set of meanings -- physical and metaphysical, and (within metaphysics) both real being and its opposite (illusion or fallacy) -- yet it sounds like a word that ought to mean something specific.

To help me understand how it comes to mean different things, could you perhaps explain how the meaning of the word relates to or derives from its etymology (its Greek roots)?

  • It is the American spelling of "hypostasize". You should find it in any reasonable dictionary.
    – WS2
    Jun 12, 2018 at 19:20
  • Dictionaries state (assert) its meaning and etymology, but I don't understand (and would like you to explain) how its meaning relates to its etymology.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 12, 2018 at 19:33
  • Are you asking to have its meaning explained or its origin? If it's meaning, what particular part of the definition is unclear? Jun 12, 2018 at 19:38
  • 2
    I think this question calls for a warning: a word’s current meaning has no obligation to relate to the roots it originated from. An oak looks nothing like an acorn, and neither can you substitute one for the other in any application of either. You should treat meaning and etymology as independent. A word means what people use it to mean. Most people don’t know or care where the word came from, and still use the word to mean what they intend it to mean. Insisting a word’s current meaning should clearly or causally relate to its origins is a quixotic quest, and will only end in heartbreak.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 13, 2018 at 12:52
  • 1
    For more details, look up the Etymological Fallacy.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 13, 2018 at 12:53

1 Answer 1


I get the impression from this footnote #6 ...

here are only five occurrences in the NT, in gereral used in the sense of assurance, substance, reality. Definition (lit: an underlying): (a) confidence, assurance, (b) a giving substance (or reality) to, or a guaranteeing, (c) substance, reality. The occurrences are: 2 Corinthians 9:4 – ἐν τῇ ὑποστάσει ταύτῃ (by this confidence); 2 Corinthians 11:17 – ταύτῃ τῇ ὑποστάσει τῆς καυχήσεως (in this confidence of boasting); Hebrews 1:3 –χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ φέρων (and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds); Hebrews 3:14 –ἀρχὴν τῆς ὑποστάσεως μέχρι τέλους (the beginning of our assurance firm); and Hebrews 11:1 – πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος (faith is the assurance of [things] hoped). See: http://biblehub.com/str/greek/5287.htm

... that the derivation from the roots is: "stand under", hence "substance" and "underlying", also "support", also "confidence" (as in, "a belief is substantiated or justified by some reason").

In that context, hypostasis is viewed as a good (desirable, or at least reasonable or sensible) thing.

I think that should be contrasted with (not confused with) one of the modern usages of reification, where that's viewed as (or used to denote) a type of logical fallacy.

So its meaning can be a bit broad: ranging from (logical) substantiation to (illogical) reification.

  • I think readers of this answer should also be aware of the warning I left under the question which was asked by the same user.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 13, 2018 at 12:56
  • My Dad was a classicist, told me Latin and Greek roots of English and French words. Obviously people can and do use words without having that information, but IMO it helps one to "understand" a word. In this case (hypostasis) I was puzzled, because it almost seems to have two opposite meanings. Also hypo/hyper is usually simple enough to understand in a word, and meaningful -- I wanted to know what it's doing in this word.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 13, 2018 at 13:31
  • 1
    The fact that the meaning and the etymology seemed like opposite meanings, and puzzled you, is the very heart of the Etymological Fallacy. Instead of helping you “understand” the word, as you say, it did the complete opposite. You had read the dictionary definitions and already knew what the word meant. It was only on seeking a connection to etymology that you lost hold of that understanding. That’s the problem. The Etymological Fallacy is just another example of what are called “genetic fallacies”, improper reasoning from “origins”, an eternal cognitive bias that has much trouble.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 13, 2018 at 13:38
  • This looks like it should have been included in the question as part of what's confusing you, not written up separately as an answer.
    – 1006a
    Jun 13, 2018 at 13:55
  • 1
    But even by your more restrictive definition of the EM, your Q falls squarely into it. Look at your title “What does X mean?”. Look at your first para “I read several dictionary definitions of X, and I understand what they say”. Ok, so what’s the... ah, read he third para “In particular, how does this meaning relate to or derive from its etymology”. There’s the rub. You’re there. You have a question of about meaning, but because you couldn’t square it with the etymology, you thought you didn’t understand he word. That’s it. That’s what lying at the bottom of the EM our feels like.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 13, 2018 at 14:16

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