In the middle of things

A riddle leading to yesterday’s morning name: What do you get when you cross someone who has a compact, muscular build with a huge thick-skinned semi-aquatic African mammal?

Answer: a cradle of civilization.

mesomorph is someone who has a compact, muscular build. A hippopotamus is a huge thick-skinned African mammal.

And, ta-da! Mesopotamia is a cradle of civilization.

Mesopotamia was yesterday’s morning word. Although I once must have known the etymology of the placename, it had vanished from my consciousness, so I was delighted to (re)discover that it was a combination of familiar parts: meso- middle and potam- river (as in hippo-potam-us, with elements hippo- ‘horse’ (cf. hippodrome and hippogriff) and potam-, so literally ‘horse of the river, river horse’).

From Michael Quinion’s affixes site, under meso-:

Middle; intermediate. [Greek mesos, middle] Mesopotamia (Greek potamos, river [stem potam-]) is an ancient region of SW Asia in present-day Iraq, lying between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates

Think of it as like downtown Pittsburgh PA, lying between the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers. Plus being a huge alluvial plain, with rich, fertile soil.

More from Quinion:

Meso-America is the central region of America, from central Mexico to Nicaragua. The mesoderm is the middle layer of an embryo in early development. The Mesolithic (Greek lithos, stone) is the middle stone age, between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic, while the Mesozoic (Greek zōion, animal) is the era between the Palaeozoic and Cenozoic eras, comprising the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. A mesomorph (Greek morphē, form) is a person whose build is compact and muscular, intermediate between an ectomorph and an endomorph. A meson is a subatomic particle which is intermediate in mass between an electron and a proton.

Then from Wikipedia:

Mesopotamia … is a name for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in modern days roughly corresponding to most of Iraq plus Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish-Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders.

Widely considered to be one of the cradles of civilization by the Western world, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires, all native to the territory of modern-day Iraq. In the Iron Age, it was controlled by the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires.

A map of the area:


And one of the area as part of the “fertile crescent” of ancient times:


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