Today’s grammar tip: Infixing and tmesis.
Whoop-de-freakin’-do! This post is all about infixing and tmesis (pronounced “tuh-mee-sis”), because I thought it’d be fun to give a name to something that we all do and likely don’t realize it.
We’re familiar with prefixes and suffixes, which we add to existing words to form new ones – prefixes at the beginning and suffixes at the end. But did you know that you can add a prefix- or suffix-like element or even a whole word in the middle of another word? As Eliza Doolittle says, “abso-bloomin’-lutely” you can! That’s infixing and tmesis.
But we should be careful here because there is a difference between infixing and tmesis, though it’s a point of contention. According to the lovely podcast A Way with Words: tmesis does not change the meaning of the original word; infixing does change the meaning and/or creates a new word. We can also consider the difference observed by Grammar Girl’s The Grammar Devotional book: tmesis is when “the thing splitting [the original word] is a whole word instead of a prefix- or suffix-like element.”
Back to the examples. For the most part, infixes and tmesis incorporate swear words . . . and I’m sure you can think of plenty on your own. But lucky for this professional blog post I’m writing, English does contain some common non-profane examples. You’ve probably heard (and said), “That’s a whole nother thing.” Has that one ever given you pause before? It might now! If you don’t like the sound of “nother” as a word, you can always make an effort to say “That’s a whole other thing” instead. But if it doesn’t bother you, carry on!
Here’s something hilarious I learned while researching this topic: Two frequent users of infixing and tmesis are Snoop Dogg and Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. I can hear it now, “Hi-diddly-ho, neighbor! Wel-diddly-elcome to my hizouse. Would you like some gin and juice?”
I hope as you read this, you were able to come up with some profane examples in your head. I guaran-damn-tee that I did.