Today’s post begins with a funny story. All of the English majors in college were required to write a ten page paper on the etymology of a single word. It was one of those assignments that had gained infamy, and many students spent a great deal of time trying to find the perfect word before they had even enrolled in the course. As for me, I chose coffee. Predictable, I know.
A good friend of mine chose huckle, as in huckleberry. The word itself isn’t actually a word, it’s a bound root morpheme. This requires a brief lesson in linguistics. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaningful language. Girl is a morpheme, as is skip. Girlfriend has two morphemes, as does skipper. Got it? Some morphemes can be free (as in girl, skip, and type) whereas other morphemes are bound (as in huck, funct, and ept). A free morpheme has meaning, a bound morpheme does not. In order to make the bound morphemes make sense, you have to add another morpheme. Funct must become defunct and ept must become inept. So, to review, there are free morphemes and bound morphemes. A free morpheme can stand alone, and a bound morpheme must be attached to another morpheme before it makes sense.
For the purpose of clarity, some linqustics folk call them “bound morphemes” while others call them “bound root morphemes”. I prefer the longer.
Having chosen huckle as his word, my friend was faced with a problem. Huckle isn’t actually a word. It’s a bound root morpheme (technically, it’s two bound morphemes). So he took action and decided to wage a fairly aggressive underground campaign to free huckle – literally. Everywhere he went, he’d scribble “Free Huckle!”. He’d tag bathroom stalls, library books, and campus bulletin boards. His goal was simple: to free huckle from it’s bound mopheme bonds. Of course, nobody who didn’t know of this campaign had any clue what “Free Huckle!” was supposed to mean when it was written on a bathroom stall.
Sadly, huckle is still a bound root morpheme. So I’ve spent the last few years compiling an interesting list of fellow bound root morphemes. Perhaps a small army of these guys could eventually form into something larger and more meaningful.
Here is the list I have so far. I would welcome any additions you have. Keep in mind that some of these are presented in their longer form to clarify their bound status (gruntled for example, is actually two bound morphemes; one of which is a free morpheme – grunt – but this creates a different morpheme).
Can you connect these bound morphemes with their missing morphemes? For example, you can inflate or deflate a balloon, but can you flate a balloon?
There are, of course, millions of bound morphemes (including –ful, de-, and –es), but this particular list aims to find the funniest ones.