Posted by: Jack Henry | June 27, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Tmesis

As happens at times, I receive a newsletter with something in it that makes me want to learn more. I received this email from The Grammarist about the word tmesis, and I almost didn’t open it. What an ugly looking word! But I thought, “It looks Greek. I owe it to my Greek relatives and friends to have a look.” I’m so glad I did! Here are some excerpts from the Grammarist:

A tmesis is a word that includes another word inside it. When constructing a tmesis, the speaker splits a word to insert another word inside it, usually to be humorous or to emphasize something. Some examples of a tmesis are fan-frickin’-tastic, some-other-where, zero-dark-thirty.

The word tmesis has been in use since the 1500s and is derived from the Greek word tmesis which means a cutting.

Of course, this wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more examples and I found some great information on a site about Literary Devices. I’ve cut a lot of the article out and rearranged some things to provide the examples, but if you’d like the full meal deal, just visit the site.

Tmesis is an insertion of a word between the parts of a word, a compound word, or a phrase (phrasal verbs usually). It is a practice of dividing a phrase or word into its components by inserting another word in the middle of that phrase or word. Tmesis is commonly employed in words that have more than three syllables.

Function of Tmesis

Tmesis is mainly used to create humor, and lay emphasis on a particular word or phrase. The Romans and Greeks used tmesis for special effects in literature. In comedy, it works as over-done exaggeration. In poetry, its task is to stress a point, as it forces readers to give more attention to the cut phrase or line. It is regularly used in informal speech, as well. In Australian English, it is called “tumba rumba.”

And now for the examples and additional explanation:

  1. Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw

Eliza Dolitttle: “Fan-bloody-tastic” or “abso-blooming-lutely

  1. Richard II, by William Shakespeare

“How-heinous-ever it be,”

  1. Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

“This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.”

In this excerpt, “somewhere” is split up by inserting the word “other.” The purpose of splitting up the word is to highlight and draw the focus of readers to the fact that Romeo is not there, but somewhere else.

  1. Hymn to Christ, by John Donne

    “In whattorn shipsoever I embark,
    That ship shall be my emblem
    Whatseasoever swallow me, that flood
    Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood.”

    This is a very good example of phrasal verb tmesis. “Whatsoever” is split into two parts by inserting the words, “torn ship.” The same is done in the third line, where the word “sea” is inserted in the middle of the compound word “whatsoever.”

  2. Troilus & Cressida, by William Shakespeare

    “That man–how dearly ever parted.”

    Shakespeare uses tmesis in his literary pieces. Here, the insertion of the word “dearly” into “however” emphasizes the fond feeling that the speaker has towards the dead person.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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