Smurfs and Linguistics

This post is not actually about Smurfs. I will not discuss the language of the Smurfs. (They obviously speak English and Die Schlümpfe speak German.) This post is actually about linguistics. Most of you can feel free to stop reading now. I won’t be offended. Unless you’re my mother, this will probably not interest you.

There is an interesting linguistic feature known as infixes. An infix is a word or morpheme that is placed in the middle of a word. This is practically non-existent in Standard English. It is fairly common in Austronesian and Austroasiatic languages. In Tagalog, for example, <um> is placed inside a verb to make it something like the active voice. For example, the borrowed English word graduate becomes grumaduate to mean “I graduated.”

Although it’s not common in Standard English, it’s often found in Colloquial English. For example, in Snoop Speak, <iz>, <izz>, or <izn> are often used as infixes producing words like hizouse (house), wizzay (way), or shiznit (sh**). A few more great examples are found in The Simpsons, uttered by Homer. For example, in the following dialogue between Homer and baby Lisa:

What do you like Lisa? violamin? tubaba?

Lisa : I want THAT.

Homer : Saxamaphone?

The most common infix in colloquial English I will call the f-word infix (Wikipedia calls it expletive infixation, but I like my term better: take that, linguists). I call it this because the f-word (mostly in its present participial form), and it’s substitutes (freakin’, fraggin’, fudging, etc.) are the most common words used for this type of infix. In Britain, bloody is usually used. The purpose of this infix is to add emphasis to the word. So, we end up with words like absofrigginlutely, and fanbloodytastic. Well, my most common usage of this form is unbe-freaking-lievable. Technically, these aren’t exactly infixes, but rather Tmesis. It’s close enough to being the same thing, though, that I’m going to call them the same thing. Infix is a lot easier word to remember than Tmesis (those crazy Greeks).

Now, what does this have to do with the Smurfs? Well, today I read an article about the Smurfs. The content of the article has nothing to do with this post. But the author used the word “Un-smurfing-believable.”

Well, as soon as I read it, I thought, “That sounds weird. Why didn’t he write ‘Unbe-smurfing-lievable?’ That’s where the stress naturally falls.” Well, I looked up the article on wikipedia about the f-word infix, and it said:

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 (not *unbe-fuckin’-lievable), however, so modifications to this rule are proposed such as morpheme boundaries taking precedence over stress.

This blew my mind. Have I been saying it wrong all my life? Am I the only person who puts the infix inside the believe, rather than before it? I don’t know. Further study is required, but it’s midnight now, and I have to sleep. It will have to wait until the morning.