Tmesis (from Ancient Greek _gr. τμῆσις "tmēsis", "a cutting" < _gr. τέμνω "temnō", "I cut") is a linguistic phenomenon or figure of speech in which a word is separated into two parts, with other words occurring between them. [The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press (1992), p. 1044 (ISBN 0-19-214183-X)]

Tmesis of compound verbs

Tmesis of prefixed verbs (whereby the prefix is separated from the simple verb) was an original feature of the Ancient Greek language, common in Homer (and later poetry), but not used in Attic prose. Such separable verbs are also part of the normal grammatical usage of some modern languages, such as German.

Tmesis is found as a poetic or rhetorical device in classical Latin poetry, such as Ovid's "Metamorphoses". Words such as "circumdare", to surround, are split apart with other words of the sentence in between, e.g. "circum virum dant": "they surround the man". This device is used in this way to create a visual image of surrounding the man by means of the words on the line.

Tmesis in Ancient Greek

Tmesis in Ancient Greek is somewhat of a misnomer, since there is not necessarily a splitting of the prefix from the verb; rather the consensus now seems to be that the separate prefix or pre-verb reflects a stage in the language where the prefix had not yet joined on to the verb. There are many examples in Homer's epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, both of which preserve archaic features. One common and oft-cited example is _gr. κατὰ δάκρυα λείβων "kata dakrua leibōn" "shedding tears", in which the pre-verb _gr. κατά "kata" "down" has not yet joined the verbal participle _gr. λείβων "leibōn" "shedding". In later Greek, these would combine to form the compound verb _gr. καταλείβων "kataleibōn" "shedding (in a downwards direction)".

Tmesis in English

One kind of tmesis involves the insertion of a word or phrase into another word, often for humorous effect. The insertion may occur between the parts of a compound word, or between syllable boundaries (dystmesis).

It is also referred to as "tumbarumba", possibly due to the popularity of tmesis in Australian speech (Tumbarumba being an Australian town), or possibly due to the poem "Tumba Bloody Rumba" by John O'Grady, which includes several tmeses including "Tumba-bloody-rumba", "e-bloody-nough", and "kanga-bloody-roos". [ [ Tumba Bloody Rumba] ]

Linguists sometimes describe tmesis as a form of infixation.


Representative English examples include:

*"Abso-fuckin’-lutely" and "congratu-fuckin'-lations", in which an expletive or profanity is inserted; "see" Expletive infixation
*"La-dee-freakin'-da", a variation of the above in which a less offensive infix is substituted. This phrase was popularized by fictional character Matt Foley, portrayed by Chris Farley on "Saturday Night Live".Fact|date=September 2008
*"Wel-diddly-elcome", a signature phrase of fictional character Ned Flanders', where a nonsense word is inserted. Note the reduplication of part of the host word.
*"Any-old-how", in which the divisibility of "anything" (as in "any old thing") is mimicked with the usually indivisible "anyhow".
*"A-whole-nother", in which "another" ("an"+"other") is reanalyzed as "a"+"nother".

ee also

*Lexical diffusion
*Expletive infixation


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  • tmesis — 1570s, from Gk. tmesis a cutting, related to temnein to cut, tome a cutting (see TOME (Cf. tome)). The separation of the elements of a compound word by the interposition of another word or words (e.g. a whole nother) …   Etymology dictionary

  • tmesis — [tə mē′sis, mē′sis] n. [LL < Gr tmēsis, a cutting < temnein, to cut: see TOMY] Rhetoric Prosody separation of the parts of a compound word by an intervening word or words (Ex.: what soever for whatsoever person) …   English World dictionary

  • Tmesis — Tme sis (m[=e] s[i^]s or t m[=e] s[i^]s; 277), n. [L., from Gr. tmh^sis a cutting, fr. te mnein to cut.] (Gram.) The separation of the parts of a compound word by the intervention of one or more words; as, in what place soever, for whatsoever… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Tmesis — (gr.), 1) Zerschneidung; 2) Trennung eines zusammengesetzten Wortes in seine Elemente. bes. der Präposition von dem mit derselben zusammengesetzten Verbum, z.B. ab er ihm die Beute wieder nahm. Die T. kommt auch bei andern aus zwei selbständigen… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Tmēsis — (griech., »Abschneiden«), bei den griechischen und römischen Dichtern das Zerreißen eines zusammengesetzten Wortes durch ein dazwischen geschobenes (z. B. septem subiecta trioni, für: subiecta septemtrioni) …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Tmesis — (grch.), Trennung eines zusammengesetzten Wortes durch ein anderes dazwischengesetztes …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Tmesis — Tmesis, griech., Zerschneidung; in der Grammatik die Auflösung eines zusammengesetzten Wortes (namentlich von Verb und Präposition z.B. aufging, ging auf); Tmetica, einschneidende Mittel …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Tmesis — Unter Tmesis (gr. τμῆσις Abtrennung) versteht man die „Aufspaltung eines Wortes“.[1] Dies geschieht dadurch, dass zwischen die Bestandteile eines Wortes ein anderes Wort oder eine Wortgruppe eingeschoben wird. Der Begriff Tmesis wird dabei… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Tmesis — Tme|sis 〈f.; , sen〉 Trennung eines zusammengesetzten Wortes durch dazwischentretende Wörter, z. B. „ich behalte es bei“ [<grch. tmesis „Schnitt“; zu temnein „schneiden“] * * * Tmesis   [griechisch, eigentlich »das Schneiden«] die, /...sen,… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • tmesis — /teuh mee sis/, n. the interpolation of one or more words between the parts of a compound word, as be thou ware for beware. [1580 90; < LL tmesis < Gk tmésis a cutting, equiv. to tme (var. s. of témnein to cut) + sis SIS] * * * …   Universalium

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