A while back I talked to you about the Latin root word ‘form’ which meant ‘shape.’ Its Greek counterpart morph, which also means ‘shape’, has contributed important words to the English language as well.
Perhaps you’ve read the short story “The Metamorphosis” by Kafka. In that story, Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning, having undergone a startling metamorphosis, or ‘shape’ change. I’m not just talking about having a bad hair day—Gregor has metamorphosed or changed his ‘shape’ into a giant disgusting … bug! You may be most familiar with the metamorphosis that a caterpillar undergoes when its ‘shape’ turns into that of a butterfly.
An amorphous, or ’shape’less blob was featured in the 1958 classic film The Blob starring Steve McQueen. A blob is naturally amorphous, since it has no predefined ‘shape,’ but rather constantly changes it.
The Greek god Morpheus was the god of dreams. Morpheus ‘shaped’ dream images during sleep. The painkiller morphine sends you off into dreamland. A great movie character is Morpheus from The Matrix, who helps ‘shape’ the Matrix by dreaming it.
In computer programming, you’ll learn in CS 101 the term polymorphism. It describes how objects can take on many ‘shapes’ by inheriting attributes from parent classes. Likewise, a wizard that casts a polymorph spell in Dungeons & Dragons can turn someone into many different ‘shapes,’ such as a toad or slug.
You may recall from your biology classes that there are three primary classifications or ‘shapes’ into which human bodies can be categorized: endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs. An endomorph has a little too much ‘shape’ to him, and could lose some weight. A mesomorph‘s body is in ’shape’ physically, being well-‘shaped’ with muscle. An ectomorph, on the other hand, has too little ‘shape,’ and needs to gain some muscular definition.
Many Greek gods are anthropomorphic, or ‘human-shaped:’ their true essence is that of light, but they appear as humans to mere mortals. Another word that ends in -morphic is zoomorphic, or ‘shaped’ like an animal.
In linguistics, which Membean loves, we talk about morphemes a lot, which are simply the different ‘shapes’ that make up words, such as prefixes, stems, and suffixes. Morphology would then be the study of the ‘shape’ words take.
I hope that you too now feel the mighty power of morph!
- metamorphosis: ‘shape’ change
- amorphous: not having a fixed ‘shape’
- Morpheus: god who ‘shaped’ dream images
- polymorph: change into many ‘shapes’
- anthropomorphic: ‘human-shaped’
- morpheme: word ‘shape’
- morphology: study of the ‘shape’ words take