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injecting swear words

Does anybody know if there’s a term for inserting a word in to another word, particularly swear words? For example: Fam-damn-ily, or Ri-goddamn-diculous?

My roommate and I have scoured all of our grammar books and literary dictionaries, but to no avail. Any thoughts?

  • November 7, 2006
  • Posted by heather
  • Filed in Misc

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It's called 'tmesis' - one of only a few words in the English language starting 'tm', and although I know very little of ancient Greek I seem to recall that the 'tm' section of the word is from a word meaning cut - hence an atom was originally something believed indivisible. It describes exactly the act you have suggested, splitting a word into two parts and placing another word in the gap.

aidan November 8, 2006 @ 3:06AM

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Exactly. Additionally, a tmesis can be a word divided into multiple words for dramatic effect.


Aidan's comment was so good I've only got two things to say about it... Fan Tastic

J1 November 8, 2006 @ 3:05PM

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Tmesis is part of a larger linguistic process known as infix. Infix simply involves adding a morpheme into the middle of a word to change its meaning, tmesis involves adding a morpheme with semantic significance of its own (i.e. a word).

clare.kelley November 9, 2006 @ 9:44AM

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I also know it as an infix. Very common in some language, just like suffixes and prefixes are common in ours. But it's so rare in English that the only real cases of it are words like the ones you outlined above--"in-fucking-credible", etc. Any basic linguistics book should verify this for you :-)

kate2 November 11, 2006 @ 11:52AM

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I've seen it called "the Australian Integral Adjective". I've also seen quite a long Australian poem which uses it in every word that's long enough, but the only line I remember is "out in Kunga-bloody-Runga shooting kanga-bloody-roos", which might have been the refrain.

Eleanor1 November 15, 2006 @ 3:21PM

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Eleanor, I'm guessing you tried googling this and found nothing. I think you mean Tumbarumba, so it would be Tumba-bloody-rumba, not Kunga-bloody-Runga. This is probably the poem you're referring to:

porsche November 15, 2006 @ 3:29PM

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I just think (but not 253% sure) that the term Heather is looking for is infix and not tmesis.
Tmesis: i.e. "any more" (in oppose to anymore; without space) basically means to "cut" parts of a compound word. Another example is a term of Theater Anthropology: "in tension"
Whereas infix is to add another part in between the parts of compound word i.e. Anglo-Saxon (the O being the infix)
Am I right?

goossun December 1, 2006 @ 8:57PM

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In linguistics this is known as expletive infixation. There is a paper on the subject written by John McCarthy -- (1982) Prosodic Structure and Expletive Infixation, Language 58, 574–590.

Tim3 December 21, 2006 @ 10:38PM

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I've always had a problem with the colloquialism "a whole nother story". In this case, would you say that "whole" is an infix into "another"? Or is this not an infix as it completely divides the word in two, and should rightly be called tmesis and not infix?

Ian4 December 23, 2006 @ 11:39PM

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"a whole nother story" is just a corruption of "a whole other story".

Jeff1 December 26, 2006 @ 6:11PM

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I think "a whole nother story" is tmesis. My favourite example is Luke's "but that's a whole nother year!" in Star Wars.

goofy December 27, 2006 @ 10:48AM

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You guys rock!
Tmesis is the word I was looking for and couldn't think of to save my life!
Thanks! Happy new year!

Heather3 December 30, 2006 @ 11:11PM

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Yes, tmesis or infix.

B-ass-ackwards is another example. Unbe-fucking-lievable, isn't it?

bubbha January 23, 2007 @ 6:31AM

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its an in-frigging-fix.

bubbha March 1, 2007 @ 3:47AM

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expletive infixation...i love that word and have been looking for it for 20 years.

it's un-fucking-believable that YOU know the word i heard 20 yrs ago and have been trying to recall since. over the years i've asked professors or people well versed in literature, a successful comedian. including just about anyone when it came to mind. i know some abso-fucking-lutely brilliant people and not one person in all these years has ever even heard of the word.

for some strange reason it never ocurred to me to look it up on the net.

i can't thank you enough. i tried to email you directly, i certainly hope you see this. a year ago, nobody seemed to appreciate the correct answer. i find it very odd that everyone just completely ignored your comment containing the proper word.

many thanks,

okopelziw November 24, 2007 @ 5:00PM

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A whole nother is one of my favorite phrases in the English language, because it's an example of a syntactic process that triggers morphophonological change where the phonology wins out. At the initial stage, we have the phrase "an other." Later, it develops into a single lexical entry "another." The problem is we simultaneously wish to treat it as a phrase and as a single word. English morphophonology excludes "an" before "whole"--"an" only occurs when the following word begins with a vowel. Consequently, we split "another" before the /n/, but since we still view it as a single word on some level, we can't drop the /n/ entirely. Thus, we get "a whole nother."

Clara March 19, 2008 @ 4:32PM

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I find it very very interesting. Hope I can learn a lot more. Thanks a lot.

than khoa November 24, 2011 @ 8:42PM

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I find it very very interesting. Hope I can learn a lot more. Thank you so much. Bye.

than khoa November 24, 2011 @ 8:44PM

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tmesis is correct. it is a type of pleonasm.

Hairy November 27, 2011 @ 11:21AM

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Does anyone know how far usages like this go back? They sound very contemporary to my ear, but I was reminded recently, at a pleasant evening at the theater, that they were in use, at the very least, in the 1950s. Recall that Eliza Doolittle sings that it would be "oh, so loverly sittin' abso-bloomin'-lutely still . . ."

John D in Washington November 15, 2012 @ 8:52AM

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