I looked at the origins of

hy·poc·ri·sy   1175–1225; Middle English ipocrisie < Old French < Late Latin hypocrisis < Greek hypókrisis play acting, equivalent to hypokrī́ ( nesthai ) to play a part, explain ( hypo- hypo- + krī́nein to distinguish, separate) + -sis -sis; h- (reintroduced in 16th century) < Latin and Greek


crit·ic   1575–85; < Latin criticus < Greek kritikós skilled in judging (adj.), critic (noun), equivalent to krī́t ( ēs ) judge, umpire ( krī́ ( nein ) to separate, decide + -tēs agent suffix) + -ikos -ic

and saw that they both have same word 'krī́' but I can't make the connection.

A critic separates and judges i.e. Looking at the source-code by dividing it into smaller pieces and looking through each part carefully.

But then what does a hypocrite do? Separate less than is needed? I must be missing some other Greek terms that give the entire word its meaning...

  • Acting is a form of criticism? Maybe the hypo- (meaning under) implies the opposite, so acting is a form of flattery. Mar 11, 2012 at 10:27
  • I also asked about this, though on the wrong website: ell.stackexchange.com/q/30430/8712
    – user50720
    Oct 31, 2015 at 0:06

3 Answers 3


The prefix hypo means low or less and krī́ is separate. From the Online Etymology Dictionary: "The sense evolution in Attic Greek is from 'separate gradually' to 'answer' to 'answer a fellow actor on stage' to 'play a part.'" So low or less separation -->'separate gradually'. Separating understanding from ignorance or truth from fiction is answering. How this got specialized to simply answering an actor on the stage is hard to imagine, but there were other words for answer, so it's likely that this use simply fell out of favour everywhere except the stage. Once the meaning of speaking on stage was established, it's pretty clear that a hypocrite is an actor, pretending to be one thing while really being another.



  • hypobaric, hyperbaric
  • hypocatharsis, hypercatharsis
  • hypochloraemia, hyperchloraemia
  • hypochromia, hyperchromia
  • hypocritical, hypercritical
  • hypogamous, hypergamous
  • hypoglycaemia, hyperglycaemia
  • hypokinesia, hyperkinesia
  • hypomania, hypermania
  • hyponym, hypernym
  • hypoplasia, hyperplasia
  • hypostatic, hyperstatic
  • hypotension, hypertension
  • hypothermal, hyperthermal
  • hypothermia, hyperthermia
  • hypothermic, hyperthermic
  • hypotonic, hypertonic
  • hypotrophy, hypertrophy
  • hypotypic, hypertypic
  • hypoventilation, hyperventilation

Seen as just another of the many hypo-/hyper- pairs, we see that hypercritical means to be over-critical of something, and hypocritical is its antonym: being under-critical of something.

  • 2
    I cannot make the connection between "being not enough critical" and "being overly self praising / pretending to be different". Mar 11, 2012 at 20:38
  • 2
    @laggingreflex: Think of hypo as meaning lacking, and critical as judgement. The hypocrite fails to apply proper judgement to his own conduct. Your extension in meaning to suppose a hypocrite is overly self-praising is a personal interpretation - it's not part of the meaning as generally understood by all, even though a hypocrite may in fact also display such behaviour. Mar 11, 2012 at 23:43
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers It isn't personal! Google tells me the same thing "professing feelings or virtues one does not have;". The only way I can see your definition fit the word is when a hypocrite fails to apply proper judgement only when he's praising himself; compared to an idiot who does it all the time. Mar 12, 2012 at 3:33
  • @laggingreflex: Well, you insist on seeing erroneously self-praising as central to the meaning of the word. Personally I think hypocrisy more commonly means either criticising others for shortcomings that (directly or indirectly) one also has, or praising value systems one doesn't in fact uphold. Your meaning I associate more with sanctimony (though I accept that anyone defining sanctimony would probably use the word hypocrisy). But the meaning of words shift over time - I was only trying to show a possible way to view the etymology of hypocrisy, if you wanted to use it. Mar 12, 2012 at 12:31
  • @FumbleFingers Oh I wasn't insisting on it, I was just trying to point out it isn't just my personal interpretation. But thanks, "criticizing others for shortcomings that one also has" makes much more sense to me. Mar 13, 2012 at 2:12

I excerpt various websites.


Q: I was reading a posting on the religious blog Patheos about critics who are both “hypercritical” and “hypocritical,” which got me to thinking about those two words. They look like antonyms, but being “hypercritical” isn’t the opposite of being “hypocritical.” Are these terms related?

A: You’re right. The two adjectives aren’t antonyms. Someone who’s “hypercritical” is excessively critical while someone who’s “hypocritical” is insincere. But as that posting suggests, a “hypercritical” person can be “hypocritical.”

Are the words “hypercritical” and “hypocritical” related? Yes, if you go back far enough.

The English prefixes “hyper” and “hypo” are derived from the Greek prepositions hyper (over) and hypo (under). The “critical” part of these words ultimately comes from the classical Greek verb krinein (to judge, decide, etc.).

So someone who’s “hypercritical” is overly judgmental. But why, you’re probably wondering, is a “hypocritical” person insincere?

In ancient Greek, according to the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, hypokrinesthai meant to play a part, hypokrisis was acting on the stage, and hypokrites was an actor.

How did the classical terms hypo (under) and krinein (to judge) give the Greeks the terms for act, acting, and actor?

The etymology is fuzzy here, but one possibility is that the Greeks recognized that actors had to subordinate their own judgment to play a role.

Now how did hypokrisis, the Greek term for acting, give English “hypocrisy,” a negative word for professing beliefs you don’t really have?

It turns out that in classical times hypokrisis also had an unpleasant odor to it, according to Chambers. In addition to meaning acting, the term referred to pretense and dissimulation—that is, insincerity.


[...] The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun: it’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That bizarre compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

The Greek word took on an extended meaning to refer to any person who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone or something they were not. This sense was taken into medieval French and then into English, where it showed up with its earlier spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to someone who pretends to be morally good or pious in order to deceive others. (Hypocrite gained its initial h- by the 16th century.)

It took a surprisingly long time for hypocrite to gain its more general meaning that we use today: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” Our first citations for this use are from the early 1700s, nearly 500 years after hypocrite first stepped onto English’s stage.


The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "jealous", "play-acting", "acting out", "coward" or "dissembling".[4] The word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκριτής (hypokritēs), the agentive noun associated with ὑποκρίνομαι (hypokrinomai κρίση, "judgment" »κριτική (kritikē), "critics") presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment.

Alternatively, the word is an amalgam of the Greek prefix hypo-, meaning "under", and the verb krinein, meaning "to sift or decide". Thus the original meaning implied a deficiency in the ability to sift or decide. This deficiency, as it pertains to one's own beliefs and feelings, informs the word's contemporary meaning.[5]

Whereas hypokrisis applied to any sort of public performance (including the art of rhetoric), hypokrites was a technical term for a stage actor and was not considered an appropriate role for a public figure. In Athens during the 4th century BC, for example, the great orator Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who had been a successful actor before taking up politics, as a hypocrites whose skill at impersonating characters on stage made him an untrustworthy politician. This negative view of the hypokrites, perhaps combined with the Roman disdain for actors, later shaded into the originally neutral hypokrisis. It is this later sense of hypokrisis as "play-acting", i.e., the assumption of a counterfeit persona, that gives the modern word hypocrisy its negative connotation.

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