Podcast tmesis

Printable Version
Pronunciation: tê-mee-sis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Splitting a word in two and sandwiching an emphatic modifier between the two parts, as in abso-bloody-lutely or abso-doggone-lutely. Like the plural of all English words borrowed from Latin that end on -is, the plural of this word is tmeses.

Notes: Today's Good Word is the process of producing what linguists call a sandwich term: an expletive sandwiched between the two halves of the word it is meant to emphasize. This unusual means of emphasizing a word is a speech conceit that is not a part of formal, written English but occurs in speech. Fan-doggone-tastic is as fantastic as it gets, the ultimate in what is fantastic. The only rule is that the sandwich word must be inserted before the accented syllable: Fantas-doggone-tic doesn't work.

In Play: The word chosen to separate the parts of the emphasized word is often off-color. Here are a couple of examples we've dressed up: "Why do you try to fish in the Susqua-dadburned-hana? You know there aren't any fish worth catching in it." Some feel that tmesis also occurs in compound nouns and fixed phrases like "not bloody likely" or "Rod dad-gum Malcolm". Use your imagination for more vivid and socially unacceptable such constructions.

Word History: This Good Word comes via Latin from Greek tmesis "a cutting" from temnein "to cut." The Proto-Indo-European root, like many others, appeared as a triplet, tom-/tem-/tm- "cut", which also gave us atom from a "not" + tom "cuttable" and anatomy from Greek anatome "dissection, cutting up" from ana "up" + tome "cutting". Temple goes back to Latin templum which seems to have originally referred to a clearing, an area in which all the trees were cut.

Dr. Goodword,

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