Tmesis literally means "to cut." In writing and language, it occurs when a writer or speaker inserts a word into the middle of another word or two words that create a common phrase.
Turn completely off ("turn off" is a common phrasal verb; "completely" is inserted)
Abso-freaking-lutely! ("freaking" is inserted into "absolutely")
A-whole-nother ("whole" inserted into "another")
Un-freaking-believable ("freaking" inserted into "unbelievable")
Examples of Tmesis in Literature
From Romeo and Juliet:
This is not Romeo; he is some other where.
Also from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida:
That man—how dearly ever departed.
Shakespeare also uses tmesis in Richard II:
If on the first, how heinous e'er it be,
To win thy after-love I pardon thee.
From Donne's Hymn to Christ:
Whatseasoever swallow me, that flood
Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood.
Literary Terms Examples