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Typically (as far as I can think), the interject is something vulgar.

For example:

  • Radio-bloody-active (from an episode of Family Guy)
  • Ri-god-damn-diculuous
  • Un-fucking-believable"

What is the word for this construct?

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7  
A linguistics paper on Homeric infixation that may amuse you folks. –  Kosmonaut Jan 12 '11 at 3:48
    
@Kosmonaut: Wow, while I was scanning the first pages, I read something about Homeric infixes and I saw a sigma, so it took me more than a minute before it dawned on me that this wasn't about Greek. I did wonder vaguely why I saw "Simpsons" from the corner of my eye, but, well, -ma[t] is an actual suffix in Greek. I should get some sleep. It was amusing indeed! –  Cerberus Jan 12 '11 at 5:32
    
@Kosmonaut: I only skimmed over it, but that was definitely a very interesting paper. Good find! –  Mark Rushakoff Jan 12 '11 at 12:11
    
@Cerberus: Yes, I love the misleading title. You probably figured this out, but in case it didn't become clear: in phonology papers, σ is the symbol used to denote a syllable. –  Kosmonaut Jan 12 '11 at 15:07
    
@Kosmonaut: Thanks—to be honest, I didn't: I skipped to the conclusion when I found out they weren't real sigmas. Funnily enough, the double sigma is actually a typically Homeric/Ionic variant of Attic double tau, and a typically Homeric variant of the classical single sigma in the dative plural. Oh, and it seems strange that I don't remember using sigma for "syllable" from Greek phonology at all: I think we simply used "syllable". –  Cerberus Jan 12 '11 at 21:48
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2 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Besides tmesis, mentioned by Jon Purdy above, another relevant term is infixation, and fucking here could be called an infix (analogously to prefix, suffix). This specific class of examples is known as expletive infixation.

The exact demarcations of infixation and tmesis, whether they overlap, and whether expletive infixation is actually infixation, seem to be pretty debatable (see comments below). Tmesis is an older term; according to some definitions it includes split phrases as well as words (as in the marvellous West By God Virginia), and may be required to respect morpheme boundaries (so ri-goddamn-diculous would not be an example). Infixation is a more recent term, and is sometimes restricted to cases where the infix is a grammatically significant particle, not an independent word (so expletive infixation would be right out).

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I don't think there's really a debate at all. "Infixation" deals with grammatically significant affixes, while in English tmesis does not, especially in the case of (inaptly named for the purpose of my point) explative infixation, which is solely for emphasis. –  Jon Purdy Jan 12 '11 at 2:23
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Hmmm… I thought I recalled reading a post at Language Log arguing this point, claiming that excluding tmesis was stuffy and old-fashioned. I may be misremembering this, since I can’t find that post, but the Loggers’ usage does at least seem a bit more flexible between them. Here, for instance, GKP seems happy to class expletive infixation as genuine infixation. [cont’d] –  PLL Jan 12 '11 at 2:37
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The comment thread there includes three different definitions for tmesis, all slightly different. GKP says: “Tmesis is a Greek rhetorical term for a slipping-in of words between components of a phrase or word, and thus refers to a rather similar phenomenon [to infixation], yes.” Jason F. Siegel says “Tmesis is the separation of an affix from its base, usually to an independent position or to another constituent of the phrase or sentence. Infixation does not necessarily take morpheme boundaries into account,” which I guess makes un-fucking-believable tmesis but not ri-goddamn-diculous? –  PLL Jan 12 '11 at 2:40
    
Xmun vividly quotes Hudson’s 1933 Modern Australian Usage: “…an ancient device called tmesis, the cleaving of a word and the insertion of some other word in the cleavage.” So… it seems to be at least a bit debatable what counts as tmesis, and whether expletive infixation is infixation, tmesis, sometimes one and sometimes t’other, or both at once. –  PLL Jan 12 '11 at 2:44
    
From Wikipedia, on infix: ""Fucking" is sometimes used as an expletive infix, as in "un-fucking-believable". This can also be considered an instance of tmesis." —unless you just edited that in... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infix –  Cerberus Jan 12 '11 at 2:48
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It's called tmesis.

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I honestly expected an English word for it. Thanks for the quick answer! –  Mark Rushakoff Jan 12 '11 at 1:55
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+1: I love learning new words. It doesn't happen that often. :) –  Robusto Jan 12 '11 at 3:29
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@Mark Not really surprised it's a greek term, myself. To quote tvtropes: it's Older Than Feudalism (and thus Older Than Print) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 12 '11 at 5:19
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@jae: Phonologists and morphologists generally use the term infixation, however. –  Kosmonaut Jan 12 '11 at 15:22
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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 15 '12 at 20:17

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