Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Wordy Wednesday: tmesis

“Wel-diddly-elcome!”

(WARNING: this particular Wordy Wednesday starts off sweetly, but the language it contains goes downhill from here on in…)

"Well-diddly-elcome!"

“Well-diddly-elcome!”

If you’re a fan of The Simpsons, you’ll no doubt have heard Ned Flanders, Homer’s much abused, luxuriantly moustached Christian neighbour, saying “Wel-diddly-elcome, Simpsons!” 

Ned’s homey catchphrase is an example of tmesis. And if that sounds like Greek to you, it’s because it is: Tmesis comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘a cutting’; ‘I cut’, and it’s the linguistic phenomenon in which a word or phrase is separated into two parts, with other words interjected between them.

Other homey examples of tmesis are “just put it any-old-where,” and ‘it doesn’t matter, do it any-old-how’.

While these coinages are as wholesome as Mom’s apple pie, some of the most effective examples of tmesis are less so, involving as they do the insertion of a swear word into a word or phrase. There’s even a special term for this, ‘expletive infixation’, used for phrases such as:

Ri-goddam-diculous (a coinage by John Wayne)

Kanga-bloody-roos

That’s e-bloody-nough

We English love a swear word, and tmesis gives us lots of opportunities to use one of our favourites, the ‘F’ word, in ways that are strangely satisfying, and hard to take offense at:

Abso-fucking-lutely

That’s fan-fucking-tastic!

Well, la-dee-fucking-da…

I’m a bit discom-fucking-bobulated by that…

Unbe-fucking-lievably (used by Stephen Fry* as an example of tmesis at BorderKitchen in The Hague in 2011, according to Wikipedia). 

*If you’re in the UK, don’t miss this week’s serving of Fry’s English Delight on Radio 4, where you’ll hear the ‘F’ word eulogised, euphemised and criticised.

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2 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: tmesis

  1. Pingback: Reading Digest: Theater Appreciation Edition | Dead Homer Society

  2. Pingback: Wordy Wednesday: neologism | Looking Glass Language

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