The Iliad and The Odyssey include tales of swineherds and swine. Among the earliest animals to be domesticated, pigs figure prominently in ancient banquet menus, rituals, and pottery. Tame sows in search of acorns must have met wild boars in the forest. The Romans called their progeny hybrida.
I love word origins. Unlike words that reverse meaning over time (awful once meant “awesome”), hybrid has kept its original sense: something of mixed origin. Its use in English increased after 1850, as scientists worked to improve food crops and animals through crossbreeding. Hybrid tea roses are favorite garden flowers.
Beyond biology, hybrid came to mean vehicles with both gasoline and electric motors. In a fresh use of the term this year, instructors, employers, and worship leaders are scrambling to design hybrid post-pandemic event formats that are both virtual and in-person.
It’s clear what hybrid cars and meetings share with the offspring of a tame sow and a wild boar. More puzzling is why we don’t call almost everything else hybrid too. Bronze Age peoples mixed tin with copper. Talking pictures combined silent movies with sound recording. Pasta with tomato sauce blends ingredients from Italy and the Americas. Cultural diffusion shapes our language, clothing, folklore, music; all their origins are mixed. We’ll figure out whatever hybrids we need. We’ve been doing it for millennia.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.