Thursday, December 2, 2010

Midddle* (for Middle*)

Once upon a summer vacation, I read aloud portions of a book called Crazy English by Richard Lederer, which we had found up at camp, to my young niece and nephew. They were too little to understand it, really, but they loved repeating the title and seemed to get the general idea: English is crazy! Sarah Palin probably had a similar reaction when informed that, despite the fact that repute, refute, and repudiate all exist, "refudiate" does not. According to Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day yesterday, tmesis is defined as: "stuffing a word into the middle of another word." While Palin's "refudiate" and Bush's equally infamous "misunderestimate" are not true examples of tmesis, they do come fairly close. Related forms of wordplay include Pig Latin and Ubbi Dubbi. But tmesis, actually, is a-whole-nother matter. Certain cases also resemble what's known as a minced oath. While retaining the swear word in question, the main word is literally chopped up in such a way that the resulting expression is at once both softened and reinforced: re-flipping-diculous, abso-bloody-lutely, guaran-damn-teed, etc. (See also Ned Flanders's pious patois: "Hi-diddly-ho, neighbor!") When I mentioned this to a friend this morning, he exclaimed: "Oh, it's like turducken!" "Well, no," I said, "the word turducken isn't exactly..." "Not the word," he replied. "The thing itself." Today's typo has an extra letter stuffed into the middle of it, and turns up seven times in OhioLINK. (If you leave off the E, you'll get eight.)

(Screenshot of the TV sitcom The Middle, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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