Easily Confused Words: Hippocrates vs. Hypocrites

Hippocrates and hypocrites are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Hippocrates (pronounced “hih-paw-krah-tees”) is the name of a Greek man who is considered the father of Western medicine. Even today, people training to become physicians take the Hippocratic oath, named for him.

Hypocrites (pronounced “hip-oh-krits”) is a noun. It means someone who says one thing, and does something contrary to what he/she said. For example, someone who claims honesty, yet lies and cheats in his/her dealings with other people. In US political news coverage, hypocrisy is a recurring theme with candidates. Often Candidate A is criticizing Candidate B for things Candidate A has also done in the past, or one of Candidate A’s associates, spouse, or heroes has done that very thing.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Hypatia served on the board of her local hospital. When a scandal about patients struggling to pay for care were bounced from their hospital beds broke out, she cried foul.

“We have to be able to work something out, my fellow physicians. How can we put financial limitations on Hippocrates’ oath that we all took? Or is our organization led by hypocrites, greedy capitalists, or both? When I performed my rounds as a med student, I didn’t ask to see a patient’s AMEX or their credit report. I asked where it hurt.”

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