What Is Tmesis?

Tmesis in a literary technique used for emphasis. It involves inserting a pause, a word, or a phrase into another word. For example:
  • Abso-blooming-lutely!
  • (In this example of tmesis, the word "blooming" has been inserted into "absolutely.")
Tmesis is most often encountered in speech or informal writing.

Table of Contents

  • The Origin of the Word "Tmesis"
  • Examples of Tmesis
  • Inserting Swearwords
  • Formatting Tmesis
  • Why Tmesis Is Important
  • Key Points
  • Test Time!
examples of tmesis

The Difference between Tmesis and Portmanteau

Tmesis is different to portmanteau. A portmanteau word is a word that combines elements of two words to form a single new term. For example:
  • doke (from "diet Coke")
  • brunch (from "breakfast" and "lunch")
  • smog (from "smoke" and "fog")
  • guesstimate (form "guess" and "estimate")
Read more about portmanteau words.

The Origin of the Word "Tmesis"

The word "tmesis" comes from the Greek word "temnein" (to cut). With tmesis, a whole word is cut, and another whole word is inserted at the cut. Tmesis has roots in classical literature. Ancient Greek and Latin poets like Homer and Virgil used tmesis to fit the metrical demands of their verse.

Examples of Tmesis

Here are some examples of tmesis:
  • abso-blooming-lutely
  • (This is a playful enhancement of "absolutely." The addition of "blooming" (or a different expletive) is used for emphasis. Abso-blooming-lutely usually shows strong agreement.)
  • fan-freaking-tastic
  • (The tmesis shows more enthusiasm than just "fantastic.")
  • ri-goddamn-diculous
  • (A more emphatic version of "ridiculous.")
  • un-bloody-believable
  • (A more emphatic version of "unbelievable.")
The act of cutting up a word without inserting another word is also classified as tmesis. For example:
  • un-be-lievable
  • (Breaking up "unbelievable" emphasizes astonishment.)
  • dis-gust-ing
  • (Breaking up "disgusting" emphasizes disapproval.)

Is This Tmesis?

Not all grammarians classify cutting up a word as tmesis. If you have a view on this, please let us know.

Inserting Swearwords

Many examples of tmesis insert a strong swearword at the cut. As this page is classified as "suitable for children," we have not used any strong swearwords.

Be careful when using swearwords, even in an informal text. Tmesis can be a classy literary technique. If you cut in a swearword, you run the risk of creating a distraction or undermining your credibility.

Formatting Tmesis

Use hyphens around the word being cut in. This ensures your tmesis does not cause a reading stutter.
  • rigoddamndiculous wrong cross
  • (This would cause a reading stutter.)
  • ri-goddamn-diculous correct tick
If you're simply adding pauses (i.e., not cutting in a new word), you must use hyphens, else you have not created a tmesis at all.
  • disgusting
  • (This is not tmesis!)
  • dis-gust-ing correct tick

Swearing Is Not Clever

We can all swear. Swearing is not clever, but tmesis is clever.

Be sure to showcase only your writing skills and not your lack of respect or flippancy.

Why Tmesis Is Important

If you're writing an informal text, tmesis is a useful and fun technique for adding emphasis. By cutting a word and inserting another, you draw attention to the cut word, amplifying its meaning. Do not overuse tmesis! It is effective when used once. It is annoying when used twice.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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