Back to what a tmesis (pronounced tuh-MEE-sis) might be. Well, according to Michael Quinion, who writes the World Wide Words website, it's the stuffing of one word into another, as in the title of this post. The origin of the word is from Ancient Greek, meaning "cutting." Interestingly, in Australia it's also known as a tumbarumba. They often insert the word "bloody" inside two words, as in "abso-bloody-lutely." Wikipedia gives some humorous ways that a tmesis is used in the English language:
- 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.
- "Legen-wait for it-dary," in which the phrase "wait for it" is inserted into the word "legendary."
The funny thing is that I've heard the phrase "a whole nother" my entire life and didn't even think about the fact that "nother" is not a word or that I had heard somebody make a tmesis!