Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Expletive (In)Fixation

There are a lot of expletives about, not just every other word with some people but in the middle of words, too; they are addicted to them, it seems. Dr Ashley Murphy @LinguistAshley kindly tweeted me from Seoul to tell me the proper name for this: "expletive infixation". Thanks, again. Very appropriate. Awe-f***ing-some!

But wait, there are rules for this, it seems. So fan-f***ing-tastic is fine but my facetious
awe-f***ing-some reply to the good Doctor doesn't work. Well, no, it just doesn't sound right. Partly intentional, he claimed hastily but unconvincingly: it seems the expletive should go before the syllable that has the main stress.

So how do these rules come about? And don't people who are not very good at this sort of thing break these rules? I suppose so, but then unsatisfactory coinings don't last. Is it folk prosodic infixation scanning, to go with folk etymologies and grammar? Clever, eh? As with crowd chants at a football match / game (I meant Association, but any will do) some are judged unworthy and do not catch on.

Ah, well, back to the greatest Engish #Pope (not Pontifex):

While expletives their feeble aid do join,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line.


  1. Yes, the rhythm is crucial to whether and where the infix works. You might have seen this when I tweeted it earlier: Prosodic structure and expletive infixation (PDF) by John J. McCarthy.