Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
September 25th, 2015
Episode 330 of 898 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 25, 2015 is: morpheme \MOR-feem\ noun : a distinctive collocation of phonemes (such as the free form pin or the bound form -s of pins) having no smaller meaningful parts Examples: The word "laughed" is made up of two morphemes: "laugh" and the past-tense morpheme "-ed." "English requires its speakers to grammatically mark events that are ongoing, by obligatorily applying the -ing morpheme: 'I am playing the piano and I cannot come to the phone' or 'I was playing the piano when the phone rang.' German doesnt have this feature." Panos Athanasopoulos, Business Insider, 4 Aug. 2015 Did you know? Morphemes are the indivisible basic units of language, much like the atoms which physicists once assumed were the indivisible units of matter. English speakers borrowed morpheme from French morphème, which was itself created from the Greek root morphē, meaning "form." The French borrowed -ème from their word phonème, which, like English phoneme, means "the smallest unit of speech that can be used to make one word different from another word." The French suffix and its English equivalent -eme are used to create words that refer to distinctive units of language structure. Words formed from -eme include lexeme ("a meaningful linguistic unit that is an item in the vocabulary of a language"), grapheme ("a unit of a writing system"), and toneme ("a unit of intonation in a language in which variations in tone distinguish meaning").