Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Bloody Tmesis

Last week, a poet who goes by the unlikely moniker of Ray Speedway, mentioned en passant that inserting an expletive into the middle of a word - as in fanbloodytastic - is called tmesis. Broken Biro and I immediately made a note of this in our pocket books (I with an engraved antique silver pencil; she with a small chewed plastic biro stolen from a Turf Accountant). Then we wrestled for the right to write.

Further investigation (after I'd flattened her) reveals that tmesis has rules. One can say Abso-bloody-lutely, but one cannot say ab-bloody-solutely. Similarly, one cannot say fantas-bloody-tic. Hmmm, I've read my two examples several times and have to admit I really do not understand the Rules of Tmesis.

Never mind. Some people absorb the rules as easily as breathing. I know a builder whose every other word is tmetic. Where's the tea-bloody-pot? he'll demand. I've never fancied Aus-bloody-stralia. Costa-bloody-Brava's good enough for me. Only he doesn't say bloody.

Funny, I should mention Australia because the people of that far distant continent (though not as far distant if you live in New Zealand) are highly skilled at tmesis. Only they call it Tumbarumba. John O'Grady wrote a poem about it :

And the other bloke says "Seen 'im? Owed 'im half a bloody quid.
Forgot to give it back to him, but now I bloody did -
Could've used the thing me bloody self. Been off the bloody booze,
Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin' kanga-bloody-roos."

Now the bar was pretty quiet, and everybody heard
The peculiar integration of this adjectival word,
But no-one there was laughing, and me - I wasn't game,
So I just sits back and lets them think I spoke the bloody same

The rest of the poem is here.

No wonder we're so desperate to beat the Australians at cricket. We've got towns and villages called things like Great Snoring and Piddle. They have Tumbarumba and Iron Knob.

(I fear to direct you to the following website because you are likely to be lost to Blogland forever and never make your way home. Still, on your own head be it. X marks the spot.)

On with the poetry. Our poets have not ignored the bloody power of bloody. Although not strictly tmetic, Captain Hamish Blair was emphatically sanguine on the subject of The (Bloody) Orkneys:

This bloody town's a bloody cuss
No bloody trains, no bloody bus,
And no one cares for bloody us
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody roads are bloody bad,
The bloody folks are bloody mad,
They'd make the brightest bloody sad,
In bloody Orkney.

All bloody clouds, and bloody rains,
No bloody kerbs, no bloody drains,
The Council's got no bloody brains,
In bloody Orkney.

It'll be no surprise that the Orkney Tourist Board asked him to return their bloody advance. He should have written Ork-bloody-ney, but the good Captain insisted that the temetic version of his poem sounded like a joint injury and didn't scan as well as it ought.

As a slight aside, I once read this poem to a strange man in a café. By strange I mean I did not know him from Adam. He became rather emotional and said that he hadn't been read to since he was a small boy. He dabbed at his eyes with a paper napkin. I was delighted; a positive outcome; a convert to poetry. By chance, the following day I met him again, this time in the street. He asked whether I'd consider reading him regular bed time stories and offered payment in cash. He said there was no need for me to bring a book.

John Cooper Clarke, the punk poet with the complexion of a compulsive blood donor, paid homage to Captain Blair in his poem Evidently Chickentown. Only he didn't use bloody either.

I've drifted from my original point, haven't I?

(Abso-bloody-exactly! Ed.)


  1. Now you mentioned John Cooper Clarke, I'll have to dig out my copy of 'Disguise in Love', just for the 'Health Fanatic' track.

  2. My JCC story goes like this.

    A couple of years ago he was appearing in Liverpool. The organiser, a friend, went backstage to check the poet had everything he needed.

    JCC said, "I need to run a joke past yer."

    He then proceeded to tell the WORST JOKE IN THE WORLD.

    My friend was horrified. It showed on his face. (He'd gone pale and his jaw had dropped.)

    JCC nodded. "Not for this crowd then?"

    "No," my friend stammered, "Probably not quite the right audience -"

    "Aye," said JCC. "Too aaaarty."

  3. I met JCC in 1981/2, when I was working as a cellarman at the Cornwall Coliseum. He's the closest thing I've seen to the living dead, but his gig was electric.

  4. His set is almost entirely stand up comedy these days. His agent, who had been asleep in a chair in the wings, was woken by the applause as JCC left the stage.

    "Have you done Chickentown yet?" he asked.

    "No," said JCC.

    "Well bloody* get back on then!" said the agent and gave him a flying shove.

    * Only he didn't say bloody either.

  5. I'm glad you mentioned JCC - I was reading the Orkney poem and thinking: I KNOW this, but it isn't about Orkney. Phew. I'd have had to go looking (AND I just clicked on your X which took me to a site that is tantamount to porn for geographers and their ilk).

    p.s. anyway I HAD to use a bookie's biro - mine's broken, remember? And I LET you have tmesis because I new you'd do a hum-bloody-dinger on it (or hum-bloody-dingo in this case)

    p.p.s WV - mingidis - I kind of like the sound of that

  6. I just had three Moptops in a row. My sides hurt.
    Will you remember me when you're famous?

  7. No, no! That was selfish and childish of me. What I meant to say was, 'Will you keep writing your blog just for us when you're famous??'

  8. And you haven't told us yet whether you accepted the bedtime reading offer ....

    I thought they were called 'infixes' but maybe that's just the English version of the word, as in prefixes at the beginning, suffixes at the end and infixes ... er ... in the middle. English doesn't use them much. This is one of the examples of when it does. Absoflippinlutelygreatpost.

  9. Oh, they're wrestling. Looked like something else entirely at first glance. I'm off for some geography porn, being nerdy like that. Cracking post though

  10. Bébé - I'm wondering whether to create a poetic alter ego called Hamish MacMop. He could out-mcGonagall McGonagall ... By the way, did you pinch my silver pencil? And may I have it back? The chewed bit of plastic you left in its place didn't fool me for a moment.

    Deborah - you are an awfully decent sort. Keep up the good work!

    Fran - I'm keeping it under my hat.(that's called a Subffix, I believe?)

    IW - Okay, before you disappear into the Ordinance Survey Site we need to set some ground rules.
    1. After how many days missing should we send out search parties.
    2. You are not to hook up with any bearded men who wear socks with their sandals.
    3. Not even if they say they'll measure your contours in metric.