Tiggy does an infix

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I think perhaps the most delicious name I have ever encountered on a real human being, certainly on anyone moderately well known, is Tiggy Legge-Bourke. I don't know why I find it so deliciously silly, but I do. Tiggy was back in the news the other day because she had a reaction to the recently announced royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton — a much less sour and disloyal one than that of the Mad Bishop), and more newsworthy than most people's, because Tiggy used to be Prince William's nanny. (For a long time the newspapers had tried to establish that she had been Prince Charles's lover as well, but that never came to anything.) Tiggy's comment on the news of the nuptials was: "fan-flaming-tastic".

That kind of infixing of an expletive in the middle of what is quite clearly a single morpheme is well known to linguists, and has some intrinsic interest, but one doesn't see it that often in the newspapers, so I cherished this instance. Coming in a story mentioning Tiggy Legge-Bourke, it was (for me) a small extravaganza of linguistic pleasures.

Infixing is the attachment of parts of words (usually inflectional affixes) inside a stem instead of at the beginning (prefixing) or at the end (suffixing). English has only suffixing for its inflections; Swahili has both prefixing and suffixing; but in some languages (e.g., most of the indigenous Austronesian languages of the Philippines) we find inflectional infixing as well.

Although English has no infixing in its inflectional system or its normal word derivation patterns, there is a playful practice of inserting (often obscene) expletives in either phrases or words. There are specific rhythmic constraints on doing this, or at least, there are words for which it works well and other words for which it doesn't really work at all, and many speakers share intuitions about this (but not all; experiments have shown that there is quite a wide range of variation in judgments, so this has more of the properties of a linguistic skill than an ordinary feature of the language).

Words of 3 syllables or more in which a light stress comes earlier than a heavy stress are ideal, the right point for insertion being immediately before the heavy stress (e.g., They're sending me to Kalama-fucking-zoo!). Words with initial stress are just about hopeless (??They're sending me to Abi-fucking-lene sounds utterly inept by comparison). Words like fantastic and absolutely work well, and formations like fan-fucking-tastic and abso-bloody-lutely are well established in colloquial English; Tiggy's fan-flaming-tastic had a more newspaper-printable choice of expletive (still profane, because flaming is an allusion to the flames of hell, but not unacceptably profane, even from a royal nanny). You can infix expletives into personal names if they have the right rhythmic structure: Re-bloody-becca works well, whereas for Jennifer it doesn't work at all.

There is a short and non-technical account of expletive infixation in English in this Wikipedia article.

I should mention that a marriage has now altered the delicious name: Tiggy is now known as Mrs. Tiggy Pettifer; still good, but less so. Of course, Tiggy has plenty of rivals for remarkableness of personal name, even within her own family. She has a sister named Zara, who for a while was married to Captain Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, which I suppose made her Zara Legge-Bourke-Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax; but that seems merely clunky and outlandish, not delicious, IMHO.

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42 Comments »

  1. Shoe said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 8:02 am

    Female German politicians sport a rich set of chuckle-inducing names, among them Roswitha Müller-Piepenkötter, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Frau Zungenbrecher, aka Sigrid Skarpelis-Sperk, not to mention the syllabically-challenged Julia Bonk.

  2. Sili said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 8:14 am

    It isn't Captain Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax. It's Gedebukkebensoverogundergeneralkrigskommandersergent Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax.

    Or so I'm told by Jefferson-Friedrich Volker Benjamin Graf von Pfeil und Klein-Ellguth.

  3. Thomas Thurman said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 8:30 am

    Is this the same thing as tmesis, or is that something different?

    [Tmesis is a Greek rhetorical term for a slipping-in of words between components of a phrase or word, and thus refers to a rather similar phenomenon, yes. —GKP]

  4. Yuval said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 9:10 am

    It's delicious if you say it in a Swedish accent.

  5. Peter said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    Fwiw, Kalama-fucking-zoo doesn’t work terribly well for me, and Re-bloody-becca doesn’t work at all.

    I think the issue is that I expect it to fit a rhythm that puts a roughly evenly-timed sequence of strong stresses before, on and after the infix. Classic examples like un-fucking-believable, Tumba-bloody-rumba, abso-fucking-lutely and fan-flaming-tastic all fit this: the numbers of syllables on either side vary, but e.g. the fan- in fantastic is commonly given longer value for emphasis, so it still comfortably fits the same rhythm.

    In Rebecca, I normally say/hear Re- as a schwa, so there’s just no way to stress/lengthen it as the infix (to my ear) requires — except in eg a compound name like Anne-Rebecca: Anne-Re-bloody-becca comes a lot closer to working, for me.

    In Kalama-fucking-zoo I’m not so sure why the scansion doesn’t feel right: possibly to time the stresses evenly, Kalama- has to be made a bit faster than it wants to be?

    (I’m not at all sure I’m analysing my reactions correctly here; someone more knowledgeable about infixes may well be able to better explain why I have problems with these two.)

  6. CIngram said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 10:31 am

    Bill Edrich, in some reminiscence I read years ago, speaks of his time on the ground staff at Lords (note to US readers- it's a cricket reference), when one of the members he bowled to regularly was Lt-Colonel Sir Ethelred Dimwitty-Smythe, which I have always thought was pretty much unbeatable as a name.

  7. CIngram said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 10:33 am

    Oh, and Basque has infixing, too. Mainly, as I recall, in auxiliary verbs, to reflect certain characteristics of the object.

  8. Ray Dillinger said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    English has a rich set of prefixes which do things that, in other languages, are considered to be inflections. In particular, expressing the role (case) of a noun or the aspect of a verb is often handled in English with a prefix.

    What's the distinction that makes English prefixes non-inflectional?

  9. Bryan said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 11:06 am

    Just a silly aside. I've heard "un-fucking-believable" many times over the years, of course. But the other day over thanksgiving dinner, I heard "un-befucking-lievable" for the first time. For some reason (probably the brandy eggnog) we all thought this version was hilarious, and maybe even better.

  10. Dunx said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 11:11 am

    You may be too close to computer language parsing when a charming story about a reaction to the royal wedding makes you think of infix mathematical notation first.

    I think my favourite famous amusing name is Twyla Tharp, although no part of name would support infixing.

  11. Mark Etherton said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 11:23 am

    Given her class and the fact she's still married, isn't Tiggy Legge-Bourke now known not as Mrs Tiggy Pettifer, which would suggest that she was a divorcee, but as Mrs Charles Pettifer?

    [I guess you're right: Tiggy Pettifer informally, Mrs. Charles Pettifer formally. —GKP]

  12. Rod Johnson said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 11:36 am

    Infix mathematical notation? Parsing? This is a topic of longtime interest in linguistics. The best known early treatment, I think, is Jim McCawley's 1978 paper "Where you can shove infixes," (though a quick google reminds me of Dorothy Siegel's 1974 dissertation and Mark Aronoff's 1976 book). It has nothing to do with computer language parsing.

  13. The Ridger said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    @Ray Dillinger: Can you supply one or two examples of these prefixes which express case or role? Because I can't think of any. All I can think of are prepositions, which aren't prefixes. Were you thinking of prepositions?

  14. John Cowan said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 11:40 am

    Best infixed word: imma-bloody-material, from Australia, notable for the reduplicated syllable.

    Best name: Leone Sextus Denys Oswolf Fraudatifilius Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet Tollemache-Tollemache.

    Best account: John J. McCarthy, Language 58:3 (Sept. 1982), pp. 574-590.

  15. Jason F. Siegel said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 11:44 am

    @Thomas

    Tmesis is the separation of an affix from its base, usually to an independent position or to another constituent of the phrase or sentence. Infixation does not necessarily take morpheme boundaries into account, as evidenced by the discussions of name infixations and of course by the word that inspired the post.

  16. Mr Fnortner said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

    Is whosoever tmesis or infix? And what is the term for rearranging words like however into ever how? As in "Every how you want to do it is fine with me."

  17. Mr Fnortner said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    As in "Ever how you want to do it is fine with me."

  18. Xmun said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

    I like Nicholas Hudson's entry on tmesis in his Modern Australian Usage (Melbourne, OUP, 1993):

    “When John O'Grady writes '…up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shooting kanga-bloody-roos' he is employing an ancient device called _tmesis_, the cleaving of a word and the insertion of some other word in the cleavage.”

    It's ancient all right, having been done by Ennius in his famous line “saxo cere comminuit brum”, where the word “cerebrum” is smashed like the brain it denotes.

    Please forgive me if I'm teaching grandmother to suck eggs.

  19. Kapitano said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

    You can infix intensifiers like "bloody", "fucking", "flaming" etc…but I've never heard of "very" used in this way.

    Fan-very-tastic?
    Fan-extremely-tastic?
    Fan-too-much-tastic?

    Doesn't seem to happen. Odd.

    (I don't think "How very dare you" counts.)

  20. A. Marina Fournier said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

    When I was a student, working in the Uni library, checking potential orders from profs against current holdings (to eliminate duplication–in the days before OCLC and library databases), I would take down the interesting names to keep on a list. There were the ones there for sheer length, and those there for true oddness.

    My favorite odd name is Tara Gabriel Galaxy Gramophone Getty. I thought he had a Balthazar in the name, but that's a cousin or a sibling.

  21. Michael said,

    November 28, 2010 @ 10:25 pm

    I have nothing substantive to contribute to the conversation, but the topic of expletive infixation makes me recall one of the most interesting moments of my undergraduate career: a normally tame and soft-spoken Junko Ito was explaining this to our Phonology II class and punctuated the lecture by jumping up and down yelling, "It's 'Cali-FUCKING-fornia', not "Califor-FUCKING-nia!'" I often tell that to my engineer friends who ask why anybody would find linguistics interesting enough to major in it.

  22. Matt Pearson said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 12:13 am

    My favourite example of expletive infixation comes from "Absolutely Fabulous", where Edina excitedly reports on how her fashion show went by naming off everybody who was there: "English Vogue, French Vogue, American Vogue, bloody Aby-bloody-ssinian bloody Vogue, darling! Names! Names!"

  23. ACW said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 12:15 am

    I recognized some of the components of the name Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, and suspected that the bearer was related to the famous fantasy writer Lord Dunsany, whose more mundane name was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett.

    Sure enough, the husband of Zara Legge-Bourke is a grand-nephew of the author of The King of Elfland's Daughter.

  24. Chris said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 3:58 am

    Another contender in the memorable names stakes is Deborah, Dowager Dutchess of Devonshire.

  25. Alen Mathewson said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 8:44 am

    I'm not sure of it's origins, but there was (perhaps still is) a phase in Scotland where scots words were infixed into well know french phrases, the most successful and common of which was 'Je ne dinnae ken pas'. As far as I'm aware the intention was entirely humorous.

  26. Xmun said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    I don't think it counts as infixing, but I believe the Canadians similarly sometimes say 'Donnez-moi une break'.

  27. Pflaumbaum said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

    @ Bryan – there's a great unbe-fucking-lievable in A Fish Called Wanda, when Archie tells George that the witness has been successfully killed.

  28. Bloix said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    Her birth certificate reads Alexandra Shân Legge-Bourke. Tiggy is for every day. I swear, these people have names like champion pure bred dogs.

  29. Ben C said,

    November 29, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

    Re: unbe-f***ing-lievable, if you look at Peter's list, the un-f*** version is the only one that doesn't seem to fit the prosodic pattern he sets up. Kinda makes me think that, for infixes, English might be just a little bit moraic. Unbe-f***ing-lievable is the more sensible form, clearly.

  30. Marc said,

    November 30, 2010 @ 12:18 am

    Of course, there is the classic Python…

    Why is it that the world never remembered the name of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm?

  31. Acilius said,

    November 30, 2010 @ 6:48 am

    "English has no infixing in its inflectional system or its normal word derivation patterns"

    I've never understood why cases of ablaut such as sing, sang, sung or slide, slid don't qualify as infixing. Would someone care to enlighten my ignorance?

  32. richard howland-bolton said,

    November 30, 2010 @ 8:08 am

    @ Bloix "names like champion pure bred dogs"
    hardly surprising though

  33. Dan T. said,

    November 30, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

    If you trace the etymological roots of words or names back far enough, you might find morpheme boundaries between syllables that aren't currently regarded as separate morphemes.

  34. Mike said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 9:08 am

    ""It's 'Cali-FUCKING-fornia', not "Califor-FUCKING-nia!'"

    CaliforFUCKINGnia is an abomination, I don't think I'd even be able to get it out of my mouth without fucking it the fuck up.

  35. Gregory Bryce said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    On November 28 @ 10:28 am, Peter said, «Fwiw, Kalama-fucking-zoo doesn’t work terribly well for me,….»

    Why not split the four syllables evenly? ka-la-FUCK-ing-ma-ZOO? Perhaps the listener would respond with, "Fucking your what?"

  36. Aaron Davies said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

    speaking of ablaut, "dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle-" from the python quote is a nice four-part example, something not generally found in english ablaut.

  37. Aaron Davies said,

    December 4, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

    the current german defense minister is Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg.

  38. johnshade said,

    December 6, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

    I'm down with "Kalama-fucking-zoo" because it has the same rhythm as "Paddle your own canoe."

    Thane there's Ala-damn-bama. And in the tmesis category there is the well-known West By God Virginia.

  39. johnshade said,

    December 6, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

    Where the "Thane' came from above I'm not sure; also, I dunno whether it's Glamis or Cawdor being referred to there.

  40. xyzzyva said,

    December 8, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

    When listing the –fixes, don't forget circumfixes. They're perfectly cromulent.

  41. Gordon P. Hemsley said,

    December 23, 2010 @ 1:32 am

    I'm likely rather off on this, but I thought of another possible parsing of "fan-flaming-tastic". Could it not also be the use of the "-tastic" suffix on the word "fan-flaming"?

    I mean, I guess it doesn't really fit in the context, but it's still interesting to think about, no?

  42. Dudlow said,

    September 16, 2011 @ 7:56 am

    How far back has infixing been used? I've 'jolly' inserted into 'absolutely' in a caption for a cartoon of a treasure-seeker stranded on a one-tree island in the Boy's Own Paper, November 1921: "Well, if any of Captain Kidd's doubloons are buried on this island, I'm abso-jolly-lutely bound to find 'em!"

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