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Take a Word.... Morph: Etymology, Definitions, Uses, a Cartoon, Morphology and a Poem

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Ann likes to research the history of words, to experiment with them and to encourage others to use fresh words and idioms.

Changing Shape or Form

Etymology of 'morph'


from Greek -morphos; from morphē shape

The Greek counterpart of Latin root word 'form' which meant ‘shape’, morph also means ‘shape', and it too has contributed important words to the English language.


as a noun, -morph

  • a combining form meaning ‘form, structure’, of the kind specified by the initial element, e.g. isomorph - being of identical or similar form, shape, or structure; ectomorph - a person with a lean and delicate build of body; endomorph - a person with a soft round build of body and high proportion of fat tissue
  • -morphy, combining form in noun: countable, e.g. stasimorphy -- deviation of form arising from arrest of growth.
  • (adjective) -morphic, -morphous, combining form in adjective, e.g. dimorphic - occurring or existing in two different forms; "dimorphic crystals"; "dimorphous organisms"

as a verb

  • of an image on a screen: to gradually change into a different image; to change gradually and completely from one thing into another thing usually in a way that is surprising or that seems magical
  • short for metamorphose, hence:

metamorphosis (noun) - ‘a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal's body structure through cell growth and differentiation, for example the wondrous metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly’.

Now we go from that sublime process to the ridiculous, but so entertaining; a cartoon!


'Morph' of cartoon fame, created by Peter Lord

'Morph' of cartoon fame, created by Peter Lord

Morph & Chas: Clay Cartoon Characters

I first came across the word ‘Morph’ when watching a programme called ‘Take Hart’ on television in the late 70s. Tony Hart was a gifted artist who produced amazing designs, doing hands-on projects, conjuring up paintings, drawings, collages, tiny and huge, with such dexterity that I found it magical. I was already in my 20s but I loved this comical character, loved art and loved this inspiring programme.

One section was a one minute ‘short’ starring ‘Morph’, a clay cartoon character who got up to all sorts and had various scrapes, uttering no words but many expressive sounds; go to this video to see the first episode:

The Amazing Adventures of Morph Episode 1 - YouTube

Morph is portrayed in stop-motion animation. He is comic and appeared from 1977, in both ‘Take Hart’ and ‘Hartbeat’. He was created by Peter Lord and lived in a wooden microscope box on Tony Hart’s desk.

The series was made for the BBC by Aardman Animations, who later became famous for their ‘Wallace and Gromit’ series of films and other characters such as ‘Shaun the Sheep’. The Aardman studios are in Bristol, about 40 miles from where I live.

Tony Hart would talk to Morph who then replied in gobbledygook, though with meaningful intonation and gestures. Later on Morph was joined by another clay character, Chas, who was much more badly behaved.

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As his name implies, Morph could change shape, becoming a sphere in order to move around, or changing to fit into various shapes and holes. He could mimic objects and creatures; fascinating, entertaining and so innovative.

Can humans morph? Let’s see!

So you can Morph!

So you can morph! What can you do?

Are you a caterpillar who

becomes a beautiful flutterby?

Or can you be a spirit ghost

who adopts the mortal host?

What becomes of the wretch within?

Or are you one of Rowling’s lot,

a Metamorphmagus who’s got

ability to be this or that?

Maybe, not quite so clever though,

Animagus, which creature’s show

will betray your inner traits?

Much worse, a Boggart you could be,

morphing to fear of snake or tree.

Can I survive your evil will?

For certain, my Patronus power,

when morphed within a forest bower,

becomes a bright, translucent Lion.

Two names can morph, like Bridgwater;

a bridge on water is what it oughta

be, but wait and see the truth.

This bloke called Walter had a brigge,

a quayside for those ships a-rig;

Walter’s Brigge became Bridgwater!

Whatever morphing can disguise,

change shape to then deceive our eyes,

to me it is a wondrous thing

like nature’s merging into Spring.

A Lion Patronus or the Making of a Name

The Power of a Stare! painting by 'Viv'

The Power of a Stare! painting by 'Viv'

Up towards the Brigge of Walter .......  Bridgwater!

Up towards the Brigge of Walter ....... Bridgwater!

Leaves Springing Forth on the Lime Tree

Leaves Springing Forth on the Lime Tree

Symbol of Spring

Symbol of Spring

Mankind & Language

Of course, mankind has morphed, gradually evolved over an incomprehensible amount of time. Then he started making mere noises with gestures. At some point, he was able to form tools and hunt. Along the way, throughout this process of physical change, language too has morphed, slowly but surely. It has evolved by undergoing changes in sound, changes in how it is represented on a page, changes in the way we use it.

You only have to look at old texts, some of which are, to the layman, incomprehensible. Then look at Shakespeare, some of which is not easy to understand either due to the spelling or due to words used in his time which are no longer current or which have changed beyond recognition.

The list to the right gives you a flavour.

Some of these are recognisable, some used, though perhaps more in the northern dialects of Britain, and some in more poetic writing.




Shakespeare's Words

art = are

dost = do

doth = does

'ere = before

hast = have

'tis = it is

'twas = it was

wast = were

whence = from where

wherefore = why

hence = from here

oft = often

yea = even

ay = yes

aught = anything

yon, yonder = that one there

would (he were) = I wish (he were)

marry = (a mild swear word)

nay = no

hie = hurry

'Landmarks' - Language defined by Place

Robert Macfarlane, in his book called 'Landmarks', neatly describes how language and place blend, metamorphose, live together:

‘Metamorphosis and shape-shifting, magnification, miniaturisation, cabinets of curiosity, crystallisation, hollows and dens, archives, wonder, views from above: these are among the images and tropes that recur. ..…all are fascinated by the same questions concerning the mutual relations of place, language and spirit - how we landmark, and how we are landmarked.’

French, Place Names & Spelling

Words morph in most languages. Take the French ‘du’ for example; it is used instead of ‘de le’, so those two words have merged and become a different one, whereas the two words ‘de la’ have survived intact.

We have place names like Edinburgh, Peterborough, Middlesbrough, Salisbury. The suffixes -borough -burgh -brough (often pronounced ‘bro’ or ‘buru’ (both ‘u’s short) or even ‘bre’ (the ‘e’ a short sound known as ‘schwa’, as in normal ‘the’)) and -bury, all mean ‘fortified enclosure’. Each has survived more in certain areas, such as ‘burgh’ being mainly Northumbrian and Scots, due to the use of the regional language. Each has morphed into similar, but definable, variations.

The word ‘rime’, the original spelling of ‘rhyme’ (which changed in the 17th century), is now used as a technical term, onset & rime, such as inset, beset; ‘in’ & ‘be’ are the onsets, set is the rime.

Words ‘evolve’ or morph depending on usage and accent, especially when they travel a long way. If we look at the word ‘schedule’, the spelling doesn’t change but the pronunciation does (‘shedule’ in Britain, ‘skedule’ in USA), so it might not be long before the spelling in the USA becomes ‘sk…’ Only time will tell.

The British spelling of 'centre' is the more phonetic 'center' in American; similarly theatre/theater. 'Humour' is 'humor', but the adjective is 'humorous' in both! Funny, eh?


Example of Morphology; root word + prefix

Example of Morphology; root word + prefix


In literacy, my line of teaching, we talk about morphology, the study of how words change by adding or taking away certain ‘chunks’ of letters, for example:

  • take/taking; word/words; general/generality

The part of a word which can be added or taken away is a ‘morpheme’. As a suffix it can be as short as ’-s’ (dog/dogs) or as long as ‘-ation’ (explore/exploration), sometimes cutting a letter before adding the suffix. As a prefix it can be the one letter ‘a-’ (aside) or as long as ‘counter-‘ (countersign).

I am in the process of devising a system to help reading and writing for those who do not respond so well to the phonetic approach, or for use simply to reinforce spelling, to look at the way words are made and changed, adding or withdrawing, including games to make the process fun.

Take the word ‘con/nect' which has two chunks or syllables; we can then change it to connecting (add the suffix), disconnecting (add the prefix), disconnect (remove the suffix), back to connect (remove the prefix).

That process happens all the time in speech, without us realising it. It’s fun to take words apart, treat them like jigsaws and find out what you can do with them.

Keep an Eye Out!

Look closely at words! See if you can detect any 'morphs'. There are more about than you might think. They might be in the names of people or places around you. They might be in nicknames. Maybe you know some ancient words which have changed to become words in present-day use.

Use the words you find! Explore the construction, the morphological make-up of the words you use! Make up your own (my 4 year-old granddaughter does that all the time)! It all adds to the quality of your reading and thereby the richness of your writing.

Word Changes


'Landmarks' by Robert Macfarlane, published by Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, UK ISBN 978-0-241-14653-8

© 2015 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 24, 2015:

Hi Liz! Thanks for your input. Interesting about apron - I didn't know about that one. I suppose that goes with 'nap', maybe?

The 'rime' thing is a technical term that literacy teachers use these days, purely for teaching purposes - bit of a contrivance I think but there you are! Yes, the frosty meaning of rime is a great word I think.

You're right about the French influence with those words - ain't words fascinating?!

I greatly appreciate your input, as always, and thanks for the tip regarding that book.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 24, 2015:

Thanks, teaches! Glad you loved the poem. I loved putting this together especially as I use the morphing of words a lot in my teaching; it's always fun.

Happy Christmas to you!


Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 23, 2015:

Most interesting. Some morphs take the form of elisions, in which parts of the word are lost due to lazy speech patterns, or misunderstandings,

The word "apron," for example, referred to as "an apron," by proper grammar rules, is such a case. The garment used to be called a "napron," and the proper usage was "a napron." However, that feels awkward to say, and the initial "n" migrated toward the introductory "a," creating our usage of "an apron."

Similarly, you used the example of rime/rhyme. Rime is indeed an archaic spelling, and today that word has nothing to do with poetry, but rather with a hard frost formed on cold objects by freezing fog or water vapor.

As for the difference between the British and American spellings of words such as center/centre and theater/theatre, I submit that because Great Britain is geographically closer to France than the Americas, they have retained the French spelling of those words, which, in French, are pronounced more like they are spelled.

Fascinating read; I have always loved playing with and learning about words. If you have not already heard of it or have a copy, I highly recommend Willard R. Espy's "An Almanac of Words at Play."

Dianna Mendez on December 23, 2015:

Thank you for the informative writing on this word. It is such an unusual sounding word in general. I loved your poem.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 20, 2015:

sujaya venkatesh: Thank you for reading and commenting; words certainly do have a lot of power!


sujaya venkatesh on November 20, 2015:

words are mesmerising

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 16, 2015:

Thank you, Nell. Yes, I'm a word-a-holic too! At the moment I'm reading a book about British regional words and it's amazing; 'Landmarks' by Robert Macfarlane. It's not just interesting, his style of writing is breath-taking.

Thanks for commenting; I always appreciate your feedback.


Nell Rose from England on November 15, 2015:

I love the word Morph, and where it comes from! I am a wordaholic, if that makes sense! lol! I have been reading a book about ancient Rome and its words make me go, ah that's where that came from! so yes this series is great!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 15, 2015:

Thank you, Audrey, for reading and sharing. Your comments are appreciated. It certainly is interesting to look at variations on words.

At the moment I'm reading a fascinating book called 'Landmarks' by Robert Macfarlane, about British regional words; although it's concentrating on Britain, the subject is a universal one as it's more about the importance of local words and their link to landscape - essential for keeping both alive in our minds. If you get the chance, do read it. I'm sure you'd love it.

Thanks for your visit; good to see you today.


Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on November 14, 2015:

Hi Ann - I love that word morph and the study of words but don't study it much right now. That is why the interest in your hub that brought it all back to me. The difference in the different countries and their use of words does fascinate me, and I love to read the various spellings in hubs. Thanks for sharing and nice to visit this hub. Sharing, Blessings, Audrey

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 14, 2015:

Mihnea: Thank you! I'm so glad you find these useful. I try to remind and inspire others to use a wider variety of words, which you already do in abundance, I might add. Your visit is much appreciated.


Andrei Andreescu from Seattle, Washington on November 14, 2015:

Fantastic lesson!Again you are being very helpful with this hub!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 12, 2015:

Thanks, Devika. Glad you found it interesting and thanks for tweeting it.


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 12, 2015:

Hi Ann thank you for stopping by at my hub. Your great choice of word is interesting and well-thought of. I Tweeted.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 12, 2015:

Thanks, Jackie! Glad you enjoyed this.


Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 11, 2015:

Great word lesson and great word poem!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 11, 2015:

Thanks, Frank. I start off to publish something on one word, then end up writing about another - the muse takes over, you could say. Going back to 'real life' with the next. Glad you like the poem.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 11, 2015:

Thanks, Ruby! Glad you liked the poem. Sometimes these words just pop into my head or someone comes up with them in conversation or text, so I have to run with them. Probably back to something less abstract next!


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 11, 2015:

Hi Flourish! Yes, I know what you mean. A few girls at school (in the 60s) had the name 'Gay' or 'Gaynor' and it was pretty - a whole new meaning now and no longer a chosen girl's name.

There are a few words like that but such is language I suppose.

Thanks for reading and for your interesting input.


Frank Atanacio from Shelton on November 11, 2015:

you know I can't keep saying it, but I love this series.. morph.. a unique choice of word... love the poetry too annart :)

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on November 11, 2015:

Enjoyable read! Loved the poem.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 11, 2015:

As a child I was quite well read and remarked in conversation,"Isn't that queer?" (meaning odd). Friends giggled or went, "Awwww!!!!!" Evidently the word had morphed. I don't use it at all anymore.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 11, 2015:

Venkatachari M: Thank you for your kind words and valuable input. How great that the children do that with the three languages! Children are so inventive; we need them to keep the language alive and new.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 11, 2015:

You're welcome, Dora. I hope you get to use it; Bill's joke is a goody and a great mnemonic! Thanks for visiting!


Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on November 10, 2015:

Beautiful interpretation and illustration of the word 'morph'. Enjoyed the poem also with smiling heart. You are so great a player of words.

Regarding morphing of words, we morph some of them by mixing the three languages of English, Hindi and Telugu. My children use them mostly and we elders also caught them.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 10, 2015:

Now here is a word I don't think I have ever used. Thanks for the lesson including examples of usage. I think I'm ready to give it a try. Don't know if I can without remembering Bill's joke.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 10, 2015:

Thank you, Eric. That's an idea; 'on morph', just changing shape a little to take on another part of life - emerging into hope and light and love.


Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 10, 2015:

Such a wonderful word and such a wonderful piece on it. I guess my life rather than being placed on hold is on morph.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 10, 2015:

Brilliant, bill! That's priceless. Glad you enjoyed this and thanks for being first at the door this evening.


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 10, 2015:

I'm laughing at your choice of words. Years ago I was working with a temp crew in a lumberyard. There was a big black kid working that day, and somehow during one of the breaks I used the word "morph." The kid looked at me and said "what you mean, morph. I'll morph your ass if you don't speak English." LOL

Thanks for reminding me of that. As always, a thoroughly enjoyable read, my friend.


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