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A linguistics teacher of mine said in class that English is one of a small number of languages that uses infixes, that is, additions to the middle of words that alter the meaning. Most of the examples are profane, for example, abso-fuckin'-lutely or fan-fuckin'-tastic. When did these constructions first come about, and are there other instances that aren't profane? New to the site, please retag for more relevance.

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It's not an interfix. It's an infix. And English is not unique in having one; they're very common in, for example, Phillipine languages. –  John Lawler Mar 11 '14 at 23:49
The glories of the internet, where "he said, she said" arguments can be solved by looking at an edit history. –  vastra360 Mar 12 '14 at 0:04
Your 'unique in being one of the only' was nonsense. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 12 '14 at 0:14
@vastra360 Just a minor point. You are antagonizing two of the users most likely to be able to answer this question for you. I think that this nitpicking is a reaction to your not especially friendly reaction to being corrected. Change tacks and you might get an answer. –  David M Mar 12 '14 at 0:42
That infix is not a particularly good analogy with prefixes or suffixes. The formal term for it is tmesis. –  Mitch Mar 12 '14 at 0:44

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Before taking a shot at an answer, we should be clear that there are different types of infixes.

  • Infixations that change the actual meaning of the word are quite present in afro-asiatic languages. Not sure what your teacher was getting at here. I don't know other languages fluently, but I can think of at least one Arabic and one French word that are infixes within my limited vocabularies. I think I also know one in Hebrew.
  • Infixations that accent a word, typically of modern origin and laced with profanity, are less common in other languages (and may not be true infixations depending on some definitions) and I imagine are more an artifact of Americana than a feature of English specifically.

When did this happen?

I seriously don't think there is an answer to this part of the question. If I had to guess, 1942.

Are there other less profane examples?

Of course! Put on a hip hop record and head hizouse, syzurp, dizamn and some other -z- infixes. Or, at a sad attempt at humor, some will say edumacation or sophistimacated. There are plenty, I'm sure I'll think of more on my way home. Will update later! More that come to mind: absoposilutely.

Until then, here's an awesome article on the subject. And for what it's worth, the correct (or debated) term for inserting a profanity into another word is tmesis (I couldn't think of it while originally posting this). This competing concept is why most would not call those infixations and why I think your teacher was heading in the wrong direction in this case.

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She did bring it up pretty much as a joke because she thought that abso-fucking-lutely was fun to say and it had some bearing on the language she was currently doing research on (I think Evenki (Tungusic)). The class was almost a year ago, so I'm probably misrepresenting some of what she said. –  vastra360 Mar 12 '14 at 1:07
+1 Here's an even more awesome piece. OP's example is expletive infixation and edumacation is Homeric infixation (after H.Simpson). –  StoneyB Mar 12 '14 at 3:18
@StoneyB I would say that's a pretty definitive source. It always surprises me that entire books are written on the smallest of details. And the fact that Simpson has lent his name to linguistics makes me feel better about watching him all those years. –  jboneca Mar 12 '14 at 5:09
@vastra360 The few times I've read about the subject, I've seen arguments for and against tmesis being labeled infixes. I try not to join those arguments, as they're way above my knowledge. Someone who has heard of (never mind studied) Tungusic sounds like a pro. They're fun words. –  jboneca Mar 12 '14 at 5:14
@jboneca No reason it can't be both. Articles are determiners. –  StoneyB Mar 12 '14 at 5:17

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