Printable Version
Pronunciation: æn-thrê-pê-mor-fi-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: The attribution of human traits to inanimate objects and nonhuman beings, such as animals and gods.

Notes: When a tree sighs, the wind moans, or we speak of the laughter of a gurgling brook, we are engaging in anthropomorphism. If we give our car a name (my friend calls hers "Gertrude"), speak of Fido's yapping as dog talk, or even call God "Father"—we are at it again. This noun is based on the adjective anthropomorphic which also allows a verb, anthropomorphize "to address an inanimate object as though it were human". This is the first word I thought of watching Star Wars for the first time: C3P0 and R2D2 represent the ultimate anthropomorphic characters, machines invested with all the traits of humans without losing the advantages of machinery.

In Play: In fact, we have to consider whether robots will make today's Good Word irrelevant: "I always leave a few crumbs of candy on the floor to keep our robotic vacuum cleaner happy." For now, this word offers a way to vent our feelings for those we don't like without resorting to four-letter words: "When I refer to Phil Anders as a person, of course, I'm speaking anthropomorphically."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Greek anthropomorphos "human in form", a compound made up of anthropos "human being" + morphe "form, shape". Anthropos is also found in anthropology "the study of humans" and misanthrope "people-hater." The stem of morphe appears in the new verb morph "to dissolve one figure into another photographically", isomorphic "identical in form," and polymorphic "having multiple forms," as was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (Now a note of great thanks to Chris Stewart, a South African human being in wonderful form who has been sending us fascinating words like today's for more than a decade.)

Dr. Goodword,

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