I have an aversion to profanity. I do. My fifteen-year-old son would have me subscribe to the attitude that a word is just a word. I will not. I must draw the line somewhere, and profanity is that line.
Imagine my shock when, after being a stay-at-home mom for nearly fifteen years, I walked back into a high school and heard profanity filling the halls, cafeteria, and even my classroom. Shock! Gasp! Horror! Had I been “gone” that long? When I was in school, a kid would not dare curse anywhere near a teacher. Have things changed so much in twenty-five years?
But I suppose it’s not too surprising when profanity has saturated nearly everything, even academic books. In chapter four of How English Works, I was disappointed to find the author chose to use profanity as one example of an expletive infix. Upon further contemplation, I could think of very little expletive infixes that did not use profane words as the inserted word. Luckily, I found a website that reintroduced me to other examples I had forgotten.
Meet Ned Flanders.
He inserts “diddly” into many of his words making them playful in the process. Which is more playful, fantastic or fandiddlytastic? I know which one is more fun to say. Fandiddlytastic! Unlike prefixes, which inserts an affix at the beginning or end of a base word and changes the meaning of the word, infixes are placed within the word and do not change the meaning. They simply add emphasis.
What is interesting is that, “despite their use in slang rather than standard language, linguists have found that these infixes follow systematic phonological rules in the way they may be placed and these rules tell us a lot about prosodic structure and the internal linguistic knowledge of speakers of the language” (Luu). The inserted word, such as “bloody” (absobloodylutely), “ma” (edumacation), along with Ned’s “diddly” are naturally inserted before the stressed syllable of a word.
It is an intuitive thing that English speakers do without giving it much thought and illustrates that even with non-standard English, there are still natural rules that we all are compelled to follow.
Adams, Michael, and Anne Curzan. How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction, 3rd Edition. Pearson, 2012.
Luu, Chi. “Fanf–kingtastic and Edumacational: The Case of English Infixation.” JSTOR Daily: Where News Meets Its Scholarly Match. daily.jstor.org/fanfuckingtastic-and-edumacational-the-case-of-english-infixation/.
Categories: Literary Shenanigans