Cranberry Morpheme Used in Grammar

Glossary of grammatical and rhetorical terms

The words crayfish, raspberry, twilight, unkempt on chalkboard
The italicized element in each of these four words (crayfish, raspberry, twilight, and unkempt) is an example of a cranberry morpheme.

Richard Nordquist

In morphology, a cranberry morpheme is a morpheme (that is, a word element, like the cran- of cranberry) that occurs in only one word. Also called a unique morph(eme), blocked morpheme, and leftover morpheme.

Similarly, a cranberry word is a word that occurs in only one phrase, such as the word intents in the phrase all intents and purposes.

The term cranberry morpheme was coined by American linguist Leonard Bloomfield in Language (1933).

These are other closely related and sometimes confused terms with "cranberry morpheme":

Examples and Observations

The bound morphemes in neo-classical compounds have an identifiable meaning, but there are also morphemes that have no clear meaning. In the word cranberry, the part berry is identifiable, and this makes us interpret the word cranberry as denoting a particular kind of berry. Yet, cran- has no particular meaning. . . . This phenomenon of cranberry morphemes is widespread, and is to be expected since complex words can lexicalize and thus survive, even though one of their constituent morphemes has disappeared from the lexicon. . . .
"Cranberry morphemes like English cran- . . . thus form a problem for an exclusively meaning-based definition of the notion morpheme."
(Geert Booij, The Grammar of Words: An Introduction to Morphology, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2007)

Morphemes and Meaning

"Is it possible for a bound morpheme to be so limited in its distribution that it occurs in just one complex word? The answer is yes. This is almost true, for example, of the morpheme leg- 'read' in legible . . .: at least in everyday vocabulary, it is found in only one other word, namely illegible, the negative counterpart of legible. And it is absolutely true of the morphemes cran-, huckle- and gorm- in cranberry, huckleberry and gormless. . . . A name commonly given to such bound morpheme is cranberry morpheme. Cranberry morphemes are more than just a curiosity, because they reinforce the difficulty of tying morphemes tightly to meaning. . . . (You may have noticed, too, that although blackberries are indeed blackish, strawberries have nothing obvious to do with straw; so, even if straw- in strawberry is not a cranberry morpheme, it does not by itself make any predictable semantic contribution in this word.)"
(Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, An Introduction to English Morphology: Words and Their Structure. Edinburgh University Press, 2002)

Is Cran- Truly a Cranberry Morpheme?

"[Peter] Hook reported that cran itself was not a cranberry morpheme: he had seen cranberry harvesting and could vouch for the abundance of cranes as spectator-participants in the process, hence the term cranberry."
(Probal Dasgupta, "Rephrasing the Question of Complex Predicates in Bangla: A Biaxial Approach." Annual Review of South Asian Languages and Linguistics: 2012, ed. by Rajendra Singh and Shishir Bhattacharja. Walter de Gruyter, 2012)

The Once-Over

"An example [of a cranberry word], from many, is the word once-over. If you give someone or something 'the once-over' you make a quick inspection, with a view to deciding on the merits of the person or whatever it may be. The word once-over clearly makes a semantic contribution to the expressions in which it occurs; its meaning, presumably, is 'quick inspection.' To this extent, give someone/something the once-over is interpreted in accordance with the dictionary meaning of once-over. On the other hand, once-over is not freely available to occupy the N-slot of a noun phrase; the word is virtually restricted to occurring in the cited phrase. (Note, in this connection, the virtually obligatory use of the definite determiner.) The phrase, along with its conventional meaning, has to be learned as such."
(John R. Taylor, The Mental Corpus: How Language is Represented in the Mind. Oxford University Press, 2012)

More Examples of Cranberry Morphemes (or Bound Roots)

"The morphemes luke-, cran-, -ept, and -kempt . . . appear only in lukewarm, cranberry, inept, and unkempt. We don't use the term lukecold, nor do we use cran- anywhere other than attacked to berry, and we don't ever say He is an inept writer, but she is very ept, or Her hair looked kempt. So the rules that attach un- to -kempt or luke- to warm are not productive; they derive only these words. We will also define morphemes such as cran-, luke-, -ept, and -kempt as bound roots because they cannot stand alone as free morphemes and because they don't occur as affixes in other English words."
(Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Linguistics for Everyone. Wadsworth, 2010)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Cranberry Morpheme Used in Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Cranberry Morpheme Used in Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Cranberry Morpheme Used in Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 8, 2023).