This post about tmesis will be legen-wait-for-it-dary.
But what the heck is tmesis? And whoop-de-freakin’-do, right? When should you use it?
Well, Homer, Shakespeare and Snoop Dogg have found a way. Maybe you can too!
Let’s dive into this little language doohickey, explain what it is, and give you some possible ways to use it.
What is Tmesis?
If you haven’t caught on yet (or you have and it’s annoying you), tmesis is sticking more words between words, usually for effect. In Australian English it is called “tumbarumba”.
It comes from the ancient Greek word témnein, which means “to kill.”
You open a word, put another into it, and a new word will be learned.
‘Anywhere’ becomes ‘every-old-where.’
‘Middle finger’ becomes ‘middle-flippin’-fingers’ (see how he pronounces wordplay?).
Now, if you want to dive into tmesis, or see what linguists struggle with, Written by James Harbeck and tmesis goes deep.
Caution: Readers only.
Enter your words carefully Bill Shakespeare: What is the effect of Tmesis?
There are two configurations for using tmesis…
Examples of phrasal verbs are ‘depend’ or ‘pass’.
The words don’t mean exactly the same thing. But put them together, and they get a new meaning.
While phrasal verbs are a headache for English language beginners, these words are a trap for native speakers.
We use tmesis to add one or two words to these special verbs, such as “take waste material leave.”
These are the changes I played with in this article. Sorry if I seem to be overdoing it.
You can’t apply these variables anywhere, though. Rhythm and order.
‘In-friggin-credible’ works. ‘Incre-friggin-dible’ is complicated.
Well La-Dee-Freakin-Da: 10 Tmesis Examples to Improve Your Essay.
Here are ten of the best pop culture examples of this literary device. Some of these apps are old. Some are new.
They are all awesome.
Check them out.
The word ‘bloody’ may not prompt us to shut our children’s ears.
But when Irish playwright and Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw used this in his 1913 play Pygmalion, it’s a bad move.
It shows (not tells) the audience about his character’s position in society.
Through the use of tmesis, she made simple and memorable descriptions, and added depth to her character, Eliza Doolittle.
2. Some-where else
It is not surprising that Shakespeare, the master of the sonnet and the soliloquy, also used tmesis.
One of the places where he uses it is in this line from Romeo and Juliet:
“This is not Romeo, he is somewhere else.”
Instead of telling Romeo to “be somewhere else,” using tmesis gives the line a dreamy, musical touch and adds a sense of longing to Juliet’s words.
But, then again, it is Shakespeare – the master of written and spoken words.
George Bernard Shaw used this phrase – which is also terrible – in the same play mentioned above, Pygmalion.
‘Bleeding’ is a slow thing. It’s a euphemism for ‘blood.’ So, using this tmesis has a similar effect.
It’s not just that this applied word helps us influence this character, it is a beautiful and memorable phrase.
The eye rests on the line.
He is with you.
Look at us. We still talk about it today.
This example is from Chris Farley’s famous 1993 SNL sketch, Van Down by the River.
Chris Farley plays a motivational speaker named Matt Foley. He was tasked with talking to a few young men whose parents had recently found their bag of pot.
Only Foley wasn’t the greatest exciting motivational speaker.
When David Spades’ character tells him he wants to be a writer, Chris Farley’s brilliant “la-dee-freakin-da” is the highlight of the entire sketch.
And the ‘freakin’ addition takes Farley’s lack of motivation to a whole new level.
5. Be happy-accepting
Ned Flanders is the friendliest neighbor in the TV show The Simpsons.
How do the writers describe the cheesy and innocent nature of Ned Flanders?
You guessed it: tmesis.
Phrases like “goodbye” and “hi-diddly-ho” give his character a cuteness that infuriates his neighbor Homer.
His use of tmesis is part of what makes Ned Flanders one of the most memorable characters in the film.
This definition is probably the way we hear tmesis in everyday conversation. It rolls off the tongue.
It’s common, it’s not unthinkable that it could be found in a dictionary one day.
‘Un-freakin-believable’ is a word that best describes your run in a very stupid, or jaw-dropping, hard-to-believe life situation.
As others use this method, the modifier adds a ton of emphasis and emotion.
Julia Roberts and Richard Gere starred in Pretty Woman, a 1990 rom-com about a prostitute and a wealthy businessman.
When Julia Roberts’ character teases her friend about an example of such a relationship working, her friend has to stop thinking about her for a moment.
The final chorus of “Cinda-f#&!&n-rella” provides the perfect cinematic cue for the production.
Tmesis often relies on cursing or profanity to enhance impact.
The power of using curse words is that they can turn regular words into words of power.
John Wayne is a famous actor, known for his role as a no-nonsense cowboy.
So it’s easy to imagine him saying, “It’s getting ri-gosh-darn-diculous.”
Well, that’s kind of the analysis. You can imagine how he actually said it.
But every stressed word placed in the middle of ‘insult’ carries another level of disgust.
He tells you exactly what his character is thinking.
When you have a 19-minute song without a chorus, the title of the song is more elevated than it is.
That’s why the band Soft Machine used tmesis in the title of their music in the 1970s.
In this sprawling jam, they combine jazz and rock with instrumentals.
“Blood-Rat” emphasizes the musical nature of this song and gives it a musical touch.
10. San Fran-foggy-cisco
San Fran, the City by the Bay, is famous for its gold bars that fall into the sky every day during the summer months.
Fog is part of the city’s identity, and the use of tmesis puts that fact in the name.
It gives a sense of the weather that is regrettable at the same time and the quality of San Francisco is beautiful.
Tmesis is something to remember
There is one thread in all these examples of tmesis: they are forgettable.
The effect may be to add humor, or profanity (same thing, right?).
It may reveal more information about the character or artwork.
It can be very good.
However, tmesis always occurs. It is what we remember.
Now that you know what it is, and how to use it, add it to your writing.
Just imagine: there’s a new word around the corner.
It will be legen-wait for it-dary.