Is it ‘homœopathy’ or ‘homeopathy’?


(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)

Is it ‘homœopathy’ or ‘homeopathy’?

The word homœopathy was first used by Dr Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician and chemist, and the founder of this system of medicine. The word is derived from the Greek words hómoios – ὅμοιος  meaning ‘like’ (similar), and páthos – πάθος  meaning ‘suffering’, to indicate the underlying basis of homœopathy. The cornerstone of homœopathic philosophy is the ‘Law of Similars’. This principle is based on a long-held belief, also held by the ancient Greeks and Romans, that substances that can produce symptoms in a healthy individual can be used to treat similar symptoms in a sick person.

The original spelling of the word always used ‘œo’.

In the 1800s, practitioners and supporters of homœopathy were called ‘homœopathists’.

In more recent times, especially in America, the origins of the word are gradually being forgotten and the spelling is often simplified to homeopathy. This is pronounced as home-e-opathy (NOT home-opathy).

In current usage two different spellings of the same word may sometimes be seen, even within the one article. But, for those who may be confused, ‘homœopathy’ is the same as ‘homeopathy’.  The word is also often displayed as ‘homoeopathy’.  This is a carry-over from the days of the typewriter, before special fonts became available on computers, thus making it possible to display the dipthong character “œ”, which is a more accurate representation.

However, on this website, the original spelling of the word using the dipthong character “œ” is used because:

(a)  Its usage is authentic to the period.

(b)  This spelling retains its derivation, and hence its original meaning.

Is it a ‘proper noun’ ?

According to all dictionaries, including Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary, ‘homœopathy’ and ‘homœopath’ are NOT proper nouns.  Therefore those words, and the adjective ‘homœopathic’, should not start with a capital letter, unless they are used as part of a title (e.g. of a book or journal article), the name of a business, or the name of an organisation.

Some believers in homœopathy like to spell homœopathy as a proper noun, using a capital letter to indicate its assumed superiority to other therapies such as allopathy, medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, etc.  However, regardless of their beliefs, homœopathy is still a ‘common noun’, like the words for other therapies.

©️   Barbara Armstrong

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