While tmesis not a common word, its use is everywhere. Tmesis is the Greek word for “a cutting.” In language, tmesis is when a word or phrase is cut and additional words are inserted. The earliest example of tmesis comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, and a phrase dating from 1592: “What might be soever unto a man pleasing.”
Common Single Words & Phrases
Tmesis has become almost ordinary in its use and everyday speech proves as much.
- Twenty stinking dollars
- What the heck ever
Tmesis in Shakespeare
William Shakespeare used tmesis, so it can’t be that odd.
- “This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.” Romeo & Juliet
- “That man–how dearly ever parted.” Troilus & Cressida
- “’how heinous e’er it be,/To win thy after-love I pardon thee.” Richard II
- “The glow-worm shows the matin to be near, And ‘gins to pale his ineffectual fire.” Hamlet
Nabakov Liked Tmesis
Vladimir Nabokov used tmesis in Lolita when he wrote, “the Old and rotting World.” Here are a few more examples all taken from Ada.
- “I’m all enchantment and ears.”
- “safety gold pin.”
- “That’s all bluff and nuns’ nonsense!”
- “the Arctic no longer vicious Circle.”
And in the Bible, too
I’m not saying that God used tmesis. In the original Greek there is no such device used. He credit goes to the English translators.
- “as will here appear after.”
- “what man soever offendeth.”
- “of whom be thou ware also.”
There is no rule of Grammar rendering the use of Split Infinitives verboten. It’s stigma comes from English language purists in the 1800s who wanted English to be as close Latin as possible. But in Latin the infinitives are a single word, so it could never be duplicated in English. So don’t worry about it. I mean, if Captain Kirk can split his infinitives, who is it who cannot? We can all still hear him say tmetically, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.
If you know of any good examples of tmesis, I’d be glad to hear about them. Let me know in the Comment section below.