I already told you about this word, whose meaning you probably knew about anyway: it’s one of those interesting bits of trivia that’s often thrown about.
Yes, it means river horse, I know, you know. I was just thinking today that it’s a little funny that when we call it simply hippo, as most of us sensibly do, we’re effectively just calling it a horse. It’s like when just say rhino, you’re just calling the animal a nose. I suppose if you have to focus on one part of its body though, the nose is the one to go with.
Another thing about the word hippopotamus is that it made me feel, briefly, very clever. Not that it takes me much to make me feel clever, but I distinctly remember the epiphany I thought I had. You see, while thinking about hippopotamus, I recalled that the river that flows through Washington D.C. is the Potomac.
Surely, I declared to myself, with an air of self-satisfaction, the name of the Potomac River comes from the Greek potamos, so Potomac River basically means River River! Amn’t I so clever!?
Well, yes I am, but not in this case, because I was quite wrong.
The name of the river is derived from the local Algonquian language, being a European version of Patowmeck, the Algonquian name for a village on the river.
You can see where I was coming from, though in retrospect it’s now clear that it would be somewhat unusual for an American river to be named so directly after a Greek word. Still, even though I was wrong in my assumption, I do enjoy deconstructing words like that, and I understand that it’ll occasionally lead me down the wrong path. And sometimes that’s rewarding, because if I hadn’t been thinking about the word hippopotamus, I wouldn’t now know the etymology of Potomac. There’s always something to be learned!