LINGUIST List 7.1019

Sat Jul 13 1996

Sum: Expletive 'infixing'

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Adrian Clynes, summary of responses, expletive 'infixing' query

Message 1: summary of responses, expletive 'infixing' query

Date: Sat, 13 Jul 1996 15:56:31 +0800
From: Adrian Clynes <>
Subject: summary of responses, expletive 'infixing' query
I recently posted the following query:

"What can be infixed in English? In Australian English you hear
things like fan-bloody-tastic and fan-fuckin-tastic, but apart from
[those] probably not much else is used in this way. I'd be grateful if
people could send me examples of other words/morphemes which can be

Thanks to the following people who responded (with apologies for any
Tom Cravens, Dom Watt, Diana Maynard, Georgina M. Green, Alain
Theriault, Laurie Bauer, Tom Capey, Alicia Spiegel, Mark Mandel, Bob
Yates, Dan Kies,, Joseph F Foster, Yehuda N. Falk,
Loren A. Billings, Markell R West, Bethany Dumas, Charlie Rowe, Ian
Crookston, Tracy Hudgins, Nicholas Ostler, Wendy Burnett, Clare
Gallaway, Chad D. Nilep, Rebecca Larche Moreton, Jonathan Swift, John
Coleman, Lynne Cahill, F.Baube(tm), Tony Macheak

Several people expressed reservations about the use of the term
'infix'. For ease of discussion, I'll continue to use it here.


The text which sparked this query to the List was an analysis of
expletive infixing in a paper by

**Chris Golston, "Direct OT:Representation as Pure Markedness" in the
Rutgers Optimality Archive
It cites the following:
**McCarthy, John J. 1982. Prosodic structure and expletive infixation.
Language 58, 2. 574-590. (AC)

"There was an extended discussion of English infixing on the Linguist
List in November of 1993. Check the archives. [...] There are
examples in songs in My Fair Lady, Hair, and (maybe) West Side Story."
(Georgina M. Green)

"A long article on English infixing was published in American Speech
many years ago. The author is James B. Macmillan, Jr. It's the best
thing I've seen. (Bethany Dumas)

"Have you looked at the paper by JamesMcCawley, "Where you can shove
infixes" (in Bell,A. and J.B.Hooper, Syllables and Segments, North
Holland, 1978.)? ( Lynne Cahill)

>From Laurie Bauer, the following 'Brief bibliography on expletive
infixation in English':

Aronoff, Mark. 1976. Word Formation in Generative Grammar.
Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Pp. 69-70.

Bauer, Laurie 1983. English Word-formation. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. Pp. 89-91.

Bauer, Laurie 1988. Introducing Linguistic Morphology. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press. P. 127.
Bauer, Laurie 1993. Un-bloody-likely words. In L. Bauer & C. Franzen
(eds), Of Pavlova, Poetry and Paradigms. Essays in Honour of Harry
Orsman. Wellington: Victoria University Press.
Bopp, Tina 1971. On fucking (well). A study of some
quasi-performative expressions. In A.M. Zwicky et al (eds), Studies
Out of Left Field: defamatory essays presented to James
D. McCawley. Edmonton: Linguistic Research.
Macmillan, James B. 1980. Infixing and interposing in English,
American Speech 55, 163-83.
Siegel, Dorothy 1979. Topics in English Morphology. New York and
London: Garland. Pp. 179-81.
Zwicky, Arnold M. & Geoffey K. Pullum 1987. "Plain morphology and
expressive morphology". BLS 13, 330-40.


What can be infixed, according to our panel?: Diana Maynard's summary
seems to cover most (but not quite all) of the contributions received:
"Just about all swear words can be infixed, it appears, but nothing

Before we lower our standards, here some candidate non-expletive
'infixes' (see also OTHER OFFERINGS at end):

"Several months ago I found in the Chicago Tribune the following:
Minne-Hubert-Horatio-Humphrey-sota" (Bob Yates) (Does the
non-expletive reading depend on what you think of HHH? AC)

"If the following relations are viewed derivationally, n is infixed:
 message -> messenger
 passage -> passenger
 porridge -> porringer" (John Coleman)


EXPLETIVE INFIXING (Individual examples):


Several mentions of abso-bloomin-lutely" in Pygmalion; and in Alan J.
Lerner's song Wouldn't It Be Loverly" in _My Fair Lady_; (Joseph F
Foster, Yehuda N. Falk, Nicholas Ostler)

"over-fucking-whelmed" (Alicia Spiegel));
"my husband came up with 'abso-fucking-lutely', which he has heard
both in Ontario and Quebec" (Wendy Burnett)

Unbe-flipping-lievable. Fan-bleeding-tastic. Har(dy)-har-blooming-har
(I don't know where the morpheme boundaries are in this construction
though!) (Dom Watt, UK)

"fan-damn-tastic." (Dan Kies, Loren Billings) "In the US it is quite
common to hear "abso-damn-lutely"." (Tracy Hudgins)

A few years ago, there was a tv show called M*A*S*H ... One of the
characters was an old infantry colonel called Putter (spell?). He
would use "damn" almost everytime he could. I remember him saying
"con-damn-gratulation". (Alain Theriault)

evi-gotdamn-dently you don't realize who I am; (Tom Cravens US)
abso-goddam-lutely! ... (Mark Mandel) 
Ala-goddam-bama (N Roberts)
fan-goddamn-TAStic (Loren Billings)

evi-motherfuckin'-dently... abso-mother-fuckin'-lutely (Tom Cravens

abso-friggin'/freak'-lutely; far-freakin'-out (Robert G. Lee)
also "abso-freakin('/g)-lutely", ... definitely a transparent
euphemism for "...-fuckin'-...". (Mark Mandel)
You will, of course, find that in addition to the infixes you
mentioned, euphemisms for them can be infixed as well (freaking,
blinking). Georgina M. Green:


"Note that the infixation is immediately before the stressed syllable.
Assuming that this syllable heads a trochaic foot, then the infix is
prefixal to the main (head) foot. Usually these infixes are
disyllabic, but [...] , it can be a monosyllable." (Loren A. BILLINGS)

"Doesn't really answer your question I know, but according to my
intuition the kind of infixes you mention have the curious property
that they cause single consonants to duplicate. There's a single [n]
in _fanatical_, but on infixation there are two:
_fan-bloody-natical_. Ditto _hil-blummin-larious_. I bet someone
somewhere has built a phonological theoretical argument around that
one." (Ian Crookston)


In my native state of North Dakota, there is virtually no infixing,
save for the occasional "unfuckingbelievable", or similar
un+fucking+Adj. constructions. However, in northern Virginia, where
I lived for a time, infixing is rather more common. I would have to
say that "fucking" is the most commonly infixed morpheme, with "damn"
and "God-damn" also occuring frequently. In general, only adjectives
or adverbs seem to be infixed, and generally only "dirty" words,
serving as intensifiers. Additionally, such infixing usually occurs
at morpheme boundaries, e.g.
	[un][believe][able] -> [un][fuckin'][believe][able]
and not at syllable or other boundaries, as I believe is common in
"true" infixing languages. * befuckin'lievable. Your example from
Australian English, however, does not seem similarly bound:
fan-bloody-tastic (Chad D. Nilep)

I know that in my native Yorkshire you can also infix 'bastard' in the
same way (I've been known to use it very occasionally!) but its usage
is generally rare and to some extent dependent on sentiment and
euphony (for some reason, fan-bastard-tastic is inappropriate, while
tele-bastard-vision is OK - perhaps this is related to the underlying
sentiment, since good things are rarely described as 'bastard', but
bad things often are. Thus, 'fantastic' cannot have a word with
negative connotations infixed, while neutral or negative words can).
(Jonathan Swift)

I wonder if these developed by analogy from phrases like "Oh my
fucking God !" or "Kiss my fucking ass !" (F.Baube(tm))


Another infix I noted which I have not seen reference to is a scwha,
as in "Sh--it!, "Ch--rist!" (or even "Ch--rist
al-bloody-mighty!". (Tom Capey)

While listening to American Black English, one often hears things like
"my-own-damn-self" instead of "myself". (Alicia Spiegel)

On occasion, I have heard my daughter in a moment of word play create
infixes, such as warping "ton" and "wonderful" into "won-ton-derful"
to be used as an expression of 'great wonderfulness.' (Dan Kies)

a-whole-nother story', meaning 'That's an entirely different
story/issue/affair. (Tony Macheak)

"Damn* can be infixed inside a phrasal unit, which could be considered
morphological infixing: pretty damn good, I gotta damn go to the
doctor" (Charlie Rowe)

I think I also had a message (if so, I lost it, with apologies) citing
English sing-sang, ring-rang alternations as due to infixing

_Many_ thanks to all who responded.

Adrian Clynes

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