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

Updated on September 15, 2018
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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.


Metamorphosis:  Caterpillar to Butterfly
Metamorphosis: Caterpillar to Butterfly | Source

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 | Source

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.

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' | Source
Up towards the Brigge of Walter .......  Bridgwater!
Up towards the Brigge of Walter ....... Bridgwater! | Source
Leaves Springing Forth on the Lime Tree
Leaves Springing Forth on the Lime Tree | Source
Symbol of Spring
Symbol of Spring | Source

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.


Evolution | Source

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 | Source


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

Do you know any place names which have 'morphed'? (please specify in the comments)

See results


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

© 2015 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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!


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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!


    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      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."

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

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

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

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


    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 

      3 years ago

      words are mesmerising

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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 profile image

      Nell Rose 

      3 years ago from England

      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!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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.


    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      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

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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.


    • Mihnea Andreescu profile image

      Mihnea-Andrei Andreescu 

      3 years ago from Tilburg

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

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

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


    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Jackie! Glad you enjoyed this.


    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great word lesson and great word poem!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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!


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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 profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      3 years ago from Shelton

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

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Enjoyable read! Loved the poem.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      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.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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 profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      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.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      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.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      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.


    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

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

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

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


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      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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