Notice anything odd about the word tmesis? Seen any other words that start ‘tm‘ lately? Ety’s pretty sure there aren’t any others (suggestions in the comments please).

Tmesis was a Greek noun or gerund, meaning ‘a cutting’. It was related to the verb, temnein (to cut).

From tmesis you get a nice little collection of modern English words, many of which are scientific but still commonly known. So, there’s a hysterectomy, meaning ‘cutting out the womb’ (Gk for womb: hysterikos*), appendectomy and a whole lot of other -ectomies.

Then there’s the atom, which upon its discovery was regarded as the ultimate building block, the only indivisible (or uncuttable) thing in existence. A-tom; non-cut.

Finally – and here’s the one Ety likes most – the word we English speakers get most directly from tmesis is… tmesis.

Tmesis in its modern English form, you’ll be pleased to know, means ‘the cutting of a word and sticking another one in the middle’. Like abso-bloody-lutely.

Bet you didn’t know there was a word for that.


*Yes, it’s where we get hysterical, because hysteria was caused by the presence of the womb, obv.


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