Expletive infixation is a process by which an expletive or profanity is inserted into a word, usually for intensification. It is similar to tmesis, but not all instances are covered by the usual definition of tmesis because the words are not necessarily compounds.
Rules of formation
Although most speakers are not exposed to these formations until after childhood, they can form new examples readily once introduced to the process, and their judgments of which formations are acceptable are remarkably consistent. This suggests that the rules for the placement of the expletive are not arbitrary, but instead derive from fundamental aspects of English phonology.[further explanation needed]
A simple rule is that the insertion occurs at a syllable boundary, usually just before the primary stressed syllable. Thus, one hears abso-fuckin'-lutely rather than *ab-fuckin'-solutely. This rule is insufficient to describe examples such as un-fuckin'-believable, however, some modifications to this rule are proposed such as morpheme boundaries taking precedence over stress. Counterexamples to this exception do exist: unbe-fuckin'-lievable.
A more fundamental theory due to John McCarthy is based on prosody. Its basic principle is that "the metrical stress tree of the host is minimally restructured to accommodate the stress tree of the infix". For example, although unbelievable and irresponsible have identical stress patterns and the first syllable of each is a separate morpheme, the preferred insertion points are different: un-fuckin'-believable, but irre-fuckin'-sponsible. McCarthy explains this by saying they have different prosodic structures: un(be((lieva)ble)) but (irre)((sponsi)ble). The infix cannot fall between the syllables ir and re because they form a single prosodic foot.
Additionally, there are even rare examples where the expletive would slice one letter into two sounds, to turn “exactly” into “eg-fucking-zactly,” rather than “e-fucking-xactly” or “ex-fucking-actly.”
Examples in popular culture
- "abso-bloomin'-lutely" in "Wouldn't It Be Loverly", a song from My Fair Lady
- "Viet-fuckin'-nam!" from Abbie Hoffman (portrayed by Richard D'Alessandro) in Forrest Gump
- "Out-bloody-rageous", the title of a track in the album Third by the band Soft Machine
- McMillan, James B. (1980). "Infixing and Interposing in English". American Speech. 55 (3): 163–183. doi:10.2307/455082. JSTOR 455082.
- McCarthy, John J. (1982). "Prosodic Structure and Expletive Infixation". Language. 58 (3): 574–590. doi:10.2307/413849. JSTOR 413849.
- "Citations:unbefuckinglievable – Wiktionary". wiktionary.org.[better source needed]
- Discussion of where to properly insert the expletive
- Scott, Tom (13 Apr 2020). "Abso-b████y-lutely: Expletive Infixation". YouTube.