Why 'A-Whole-Nother' Isn't Like 'Ala-Frickin'-Bama' and 'Hizzouse'

While researching why people say "a-whole-nother," Syelle Graves discovered that even knowing what to call the phrase gets complicated (and interesting).

Syelle Graves, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #420

So, while many use the term infix for these two funny cases, it may not be exactly the right term. In the flippin’ and bloomin’ cases, we insert full words (not affixes), and in the -iz- case, -iz- is not really a true affix because it’s not a grammatical element like an -s at the end of a word. Plus, inserted material in both cases is for emphasis and conversational purposes, and not to change the meaning of the word like -ist does. 

So, how about the term tmesis, for inserting expletives, which we saw earlier is usually defined as inserting an entire word? Well, it’s not necessarily the right word to describe a-whole-nother either: Some scholars claim that “true tmesis” has to be a word inserted inside a compound word (a word made up of two separate words such as anything), so an example of true tmesis would be any-flippin’-thing.

As you can see, even trying to figure out what to call a-whole-nother gets complicated. If we use loose definitions, linguists might accept tmesis or infixing for inserting swear words or -iz- in the middle of words, but neither term quite works for a-whole-nother. In Part II of this “who knew one little phrase could teach us so much” series, we’ll suggest a term that might work better and we’ll look at how the same process that gave us the word apron is at least partly to blame for people saying a-whole-nother

Syelle Graves has a master’s degree in linguistics and is a linguistics index editor for the International Bibliography of the Modern Language Association. http://syellegraves.ws.gc.cuny.edu/


Curzan, Anne, and Adams, Michael. (2012). How English Works (3rd. ed.). Boston, MA: Longman.

Fromkin, Victoria, et al. (2011). An Introduction to Language (9th ed.) Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

infix. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infix (accessed May 8, 2014).

Lindsay, Mark. American English iz‐infixation: Interaction of phonology, metrics, and rhyme.

McMillan, James B. (1980). Infixing and interposing in English. American Speech, 55(3), 163–183.

Myler, Neil. (2014). personal communication.

O’Grady, William, et al. (2005). Contemporary Linguistics (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin.


tmesis. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tmesis (accessed May 10, 2014).


About the Author

Syelle Graves, Writing for Grammar Girl

Syelle Graves has a master’s degree in linguistics and is the assistant director of ILETC (Institute for Language Education in Transcultural Context). You can find her at syellegraves.com.

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