Hypergamy and Others
Bill Long 2/17/06
Marrying and Sleeping
Though I should be ripping through 10-15 pages per day in my dictionary review, I decided I need to stop and ruminate on some words, all beginning with "hyper" or "hyp," because they simply are too good to pass over quickly. Let's quickly begin.
Hypergamy is an anthropological term whose origin I will tell here for the first time on the Internet. The OED describes the term as "first used by W. Coldstream, to denote the custom which forbids the marriage of a woman into a group of lower standing than her own." This reference appears, however in an 1883 work by Denzil CJ Ibbetson, where he spoke of social rules in India which could be referred to by two "laws," those of isogamy and hypergamy. Ibbetson mentions that Mr. Coldstream wrote about how certain classis of Khatris were trying to free themselves from the rule of contracting 'hypergamous' alliances. Thus, we know that the term arose in 1883 or before.
A little research, however, disclosed the existence of a letter to the editor of the Geographical Journal from August 1917 written by none other than William Coldstream, then retired. In this letter he is arguing for the coinage of one or two new anthropological or forestry terms: geoteresis and geoteresy. He writes:
"In the course of my official duties in India, the question of protecting submontane lands from erosion by torrents and the lowlands from being submerged by sand and gravel carried by floods constantly presented itself to me..."
Coldstream concluded that there was no English word to describe the idea. "Protective forestry" seemed only partially to "fit," and so he coined the term "Geoteresis" or "Geoteresy." These were terms that would include protection against: (1) erosion by torrents, rivers and sea; and (2) submersion by those agencies, and also by sand drift and silt deposit. [By the way, neither of these terms caught on. The OED doesn't list them.]
His 1917 letter concludes, however, with our word. Maybe one of the reasons he was bold to suggest the word "Geoteresis" is because he was successful in coining hypergamy. He goes on to say:
"A recent instance [of coining a word] may be quoted in the word 'hypergamy'--signifying the social custom, common in India, which obliges a father to marry his daughter in a superior social grade. This word was first used by the writer in a Census Report, written in India (for the Hoshiarpur District) in the year 1882, and, because a word was needed and it seemed to meet the requirements of the case, it has since been universally adopted."
There you have it. Hypergamy originated in 1882, in Coldstream's Census Report. He concludes his letter with what turned out to be an ignis fatuus, however: "It is perhaps not too much to hope that "Geoteresy" will become equally useful." Sorry, William, it was too much to hope...
Well, if hypergamy and hypergamous caught on, would a term likewise catch on which would describe a woman marrying down? It did, but not for more than 60 years. Hypogamy, marrying down, is first attested in a book Caste in India in 1946: "Hypogamy, on the other hand, is associated with a bride-price." But then we learn another new word. The same book says:
"Hypogamous marriages...are pratiloma, against the grain, that is, against what is natural or proper, since the status of the bride is in this case higher than that of the bridegroom."
Pratiloma is elsewhere contrasted with anuloma, with the latter being synonymous with hypergamy. A wonderful resource for additional relational terms is this online site by N. E. Anderson, "Glossary of Relationship Terms."
I guess I am not making much "progress" in this essay, but I will close with a few "hyp"-words having to do with sleep. We all know of the period of falling asleep and awakening--where images crowd the mind and sometimes make us awake with a start. The hallucinations or imaginings that accompany us as we fall asleep are hypnagogic (or hypnogogic) images. They "lead into" sleep. Coined in 1886 by Gurney, the word was used as follows: "The 'hypnagogic' hallucination was as truly the projection of the percipient's own mind as the dream." But when you are awakening from sleep, and the images and seemingly physical incapacity to awake grips you, you are experiencing hypnopompic images--"that accompanies the process of awakening from sleep." This word was not attested until 1901, however: "To similar illusions accompanying the departure of sleep, as when a dream-figure persists for a few moments into waking life, I have given the name hypnopompic." Thus, it took scholars 15 years to wake up to the fact that hypnopompic was needed.
Let's turn to a few other "hyp" words.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long