Printable Version
Pronunciation: mê-ræs Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Swamp, bog, marsh; any low-lying, soggy area. 2. Overwhelmingly complicated, confusing mire that's easy to get bogged down in.

Notes: The difference between a morass and a quagmire is that quagmire implies a large morass, compiling many, many issues or objects. A morass implies complexity without connoting any amount. The adjective is morassy; morassic has long since been abandoned.

In Play: Anything with so many parts or steps that it mires you down is a morass: "Voting in some states has become a morass of red tape that strangles many potential voters." Like quicksand, morass implies difficulty retrieving yourself, getting irretrievably sucked in: "When he married Felicity, Fenwick couldn't imagine what a morass family life could be."

Word History: English apparently borrowed this word from Dutch moeras "marsh, bog" that Dutch copied and modified from Old French marais "marsh". The PIE original was mori-/meri- "body of water", seen in Russian more "sea", French mer "sea", German Meer "sea", and Latin mare "sea". The Latin root may be seen in many English borrowings from the language: marine, maritime, and marinara, borrowed from Italian in the sense "in navy style". Greek replaced its root mar- for "sea" with thalassa except in idiomatic derivations like marinos, a kind of salt water fish. The same PIE original came via its Germanic ancestors to English as moor and Old English mere "lake", which went into the making of mermaid. (David Myer recently recommended that we work up this word from the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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