*Abso-hallelujah-lutely: Infixes can’t be interjections (but what are they?)

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about why you can’t say *abso-jesus-lutely, pointing out that you can only infix certain kinds of swears.

In response, Ed Cormany asked on Twitter whether I thought swears were in the same category as interjections. I said no, but this got me started on interjection infixation, which turns out to be abso-hallelujah-lutely interesting.

But let’s back up for a sec. What’s an interjection? Classic interjections are words like oops, whoa, hey, eek, oh, aww, ouch, yikes, wow. Several dictionaries point to interjections as words that can stand alone as utterances or that have no grammatical connection to other words around them.

We’ve already established that English infixes need to be at least two syllables long (it’s abso-fucking-lutely, not *abso-fuck-lutely), so we’ll have to work with a smaller group, interjections like yippee, hooray, amen, hallelujah, bingo, bravo, eureka, ahoy, wahoo, and encore.

Let’s give it a try:

abso-yippee-lutely
abso-hooray-lutely
abso-amen-lutely
abso-hallelujah-lutely
abso-bingo-lutely
abso-bravo-lutely
abso-eureka-lutely
abso-ahoy-lutely
abso-wahoo-lutely
abso-encore-lutely

Okay, so these sound pretty weird. But let’s weed out a couple issues that could be confounding things. First, we’re going to take out all the interjections that have stress on the second syllable, since the classic infixes “bloody” and “fucking” are stressed on the first. Bye to yipPEE, hooRAY, aMEN, aHOY, and waHOO.

Let’s also drop “eureka” because I don’t know what to do with three syllable infixes, plus any of the remaining ones (only “encore”) that begin with a vowel, just in case  having a vowel next to the “o” in abso- is too weird.

Now we’re left with:

abso-hallelujah-lutely
abso-bingo-lutely
abso-bravo-lutely
abso-encore-lutely

Welp, they still sound terrible.

My favourite example, hallelujah, shows that it really can’t be stress: HAL-le-LU-jah has the same stress (trochaic) as MU-tha-FUC-king, and yet abso-muthafucking-lutely is so much better than *abso-hallelujah-lutely.

And it can’t be semantics: I know exactly what “abso-hallelujah-lutely” or “abso-amen!-lutely” would mean and I would totally love to have it in my vocabulary (and so would several people on twitter). It just probably won’t actually happen, because ungrammatical.

I do think that some swear words are genuine interjections: the stub-your-toe use of fuck or shit or damn is simply a profaner version of Real Certified Interjections (TM) like oops or ouch or aww. But the swears that you can infix aren’t the interjections: you don’t say “fucking” or “bloody” when you stub your toe, you say “fuck” or “bloody hell”. In other words, “fucking” or “bloody” don’t meet our basic definition of an interjection, because they can’t stand in isolation — they have to be modifying something. No problem when infixes, major problem when interjections.

And, as I’ve spent most of this post showing, none of the non-swears that we know are interjections work as infixes, even when they’re phonologically suitable. So it really, really wouldn’t make sense to call the words we can infix interjections.

What to call them then? In my previous post, I called them expletives, a backformation from expletive infixation, but of course, “expletive” is already used for other purposes, so I’ll open the comments for alternate suggestions. Expletive modifiers, perhaps?

12 thoughts on “*Abso-hallelujah-lutely: Infixes can’t be interjections (but what are they?)

    • Nancy Friedman December 29, 2015 / 3:38 am

      I love the cadence of “I’ll guaran-damn-tee you one damn thing…”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Y December 27, 2015 / 6:20 pm

    I think the infix has to be adverbial as well as fitting the phonological constraints. That is, it should work before the word as well: “abso-damn-lutely” = “damn absolutely!”, or even “abso-bloody-fucking-lutely” = “bloody fucking absolutely!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Cowan December 27, 2015 / 7:18 pm

    Simply put, infixable words are adverbs of emphasis (AE), and they can’t appear infixed unless they can also appear grammatically before the infixee. For example, goddamn is such an adverb (“It’s goddamn radioactive out there”, from “Flatlander” by Larry Niven) and can appear infixed (“The trouble with you, Coates, is that you’re too inde-goddamn-pendent”, in Mencken, The American Language). It’s true that goddamn is also an interjection, unlike bloody, but the latter is also infixable because it is an AE. Now that stupid is becoming an AE as well, as in “That’s how stupid cute she is” (Urban Dictionary), I would expect to see things like uncon-stupid-vincing eventually: in other words, I don’t think AEs have to be swearwords to work (though there is getting to be an element of taboo about stupid itself; ask any American elementary schooler about using it in class).

    Note that adverbs here, as elsewhere in English, don’t just modify verbs: they can modify nouns: “goddamn obligation” becomes “obli-goddamn-nation” (Mencken), and although “bloody hell!” is too short to infix, it does show an adverb modifying an interjection.

    I also point once again to the recorded Australian example “It’s imma-bloody-material to me” (also in Mencken), which reduplicates ma in order to get the infixing rhythm correct. This one example oversets a good deal of what people think they know about the prosody of English infixing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pat December 29, 2015 / 12:25 am

      So, would abso-mega-lutely work?

      Liked by 1 person

      • John Cowan January 1, 2016 / 4:51 pm

        But here we have not Homeric infixation, but (I think) Homeric reduplication. Which sounds better, mana-bloody-nagerial or mana-bloody-magerial? The first, I submit.

        Like

  3. Chips December 28, 2015 / 12:26 am

    I’ve cited this elsewhere in Strong Language, but my favourite Australian infixing:

    “So you fuckin’ think I’m sofuckinfistafuckincated?”

    Liked by 1 person

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