Absoposilutely infixed

Affixes are normally added to the start or end of a word, where they’re called prefixes and suffixes, respectively. But sometimes they appear in the middle, as infixes. (There are several other categories of affix.)

Infixation in English is often jocular or playful, as in “Homer-ic” edumacation, or Ned-Flandersy scrum-diddly-umptious, where diddly is infixed and um is reduplicated.

Another familiar form of infixation is expletive infixation, as in absofuckinglutely, where the infix serves to intensify the expression. Less rude is absobloodylutely, and milder still but retaining the structure is absoposilutely, which borrows posi from positively.

Song Kang-ho in Thirst (2009)

I didn’t expect to see absoposilutely in the subtitles of a Korean horror film, but there it was. It seems unlikely that it was used as a straightforward synonym for absolutely. It made me wonder whether Korean has an analogous system of emphatic infixation, or what kind of morphological construction the translation might have served to suggest.

I know very little about the Korean language, but I found an interesting paper, Hyung-Soo Kim’s “A new look at partial reduplication in Korean” (PDF), that discusses “the problem of having to accept infixation only in partial reduplication in Korean because there is no evidence for infixation elsewhere in Korean morphology.”

So a partial answer to my question is that Korean doesn’t appear to have infixation,* but it does have internal partial reduplication, an instance of which may have been what was translated into absoposilutely in the film subtitles. But that last part’s a guess.

For more on the use and variety of affixes, see my post “Morphogasmic affixation” and the links therein. You might also enjoy John J. McCarthy’s “Prosodic structure and expletive infixation” (PDF), which characterises expletive infixes according to metric phonology – that is, it offers an explanation for why we tend to say absofuckinglutely rather than abfuckingsolutely or absolutefuckingly. If we say it at all.

* Other sources I looked at include Jongho Jun, “Variable affix position in Korean partial reduplication” (PDF); Alan C. L. Yu, “A Natural History of Infixation” (PDF); and a few items on Google Books.

13 Responses to Absoposilutely infixed

  1. yeajung says:

    Korean speaker’s comment: From what I remember of the film, the original line is “당근이지(dang.gen.i.ci)”, which is a kids’-slang variant of “당연하지(dang.yen.ha.ci)”, which means “for sure/absolutely”. Not a case of infixation or reduplication, but the translator probably wished to keep the effect of a rather unexpected use of a childish play on pronunciation.

  2. quirkycase says:

    Interesting! I’ve never heard ‘absoposilutely’ before, and it’s interesting because ‘positively’ is clipped to ‘posi’. I don’t know of any other examples in English that used a clipped form. But then, I’ve no idea what the -ma- infix (e.g. edumacation) comes from, though I’ve found anecdotally this seems to be quite productive and is perhaps used to signal in-group language. The other infixes (the taboo words etc) seem to serve as intensifiers, but I’m not sure this is the case with -ma-. Thoughts?

  3. jessibird says:

    I wondered about that subtitle too. Really liked the film.

  4. Stan says:

    yeajung: Ah! Thank you for the helpful explanation. That sounds perfectly plausible.

    quirkycase: I don’t know where the -ma- infix comes from either, but The Simpsons apparently popularized it (e.g. saxomaphone), hence “Homeric”. It doesn’t intensify; Wikipedia says it marks an “ironic pseudo-sophistication”, which feels about right. You might be interested in Alan C. L. Yu’s discussion, “Reduplication in English Homeric Infixation” (PDF).

    jessibird: I liked it too. Park Chan-wook’s films are hit and miss with me, but Thirst did a lot of interesting things well in a genre that has really been done to undeath by now.

  5. johnwcowan says:

    The infixation-reduplication immabloodymaterial is recorded from Australia.

  6. Marc Leavitt says:

    Absobloodylutely right! Luckily we don’t speak Turkish; agglutinative languages depend on infixes for changes of meaning.

  7. Is this tmesis, Stan?

  8. Stan says:

    John: I hadn’t encountered immabloodymaterial before, but there it is in the Milwaukee Journal in 1942, which may be the source you have in mind:

    The imma- gave me momentary pause because of its recent long-i pronunciation as a version of I’ma.

    Marc: Indeed. Then again, if we spoke Turkish, that would be second nature!

    Jams: It is. There’s a helpful article on it at Macmillan Dictionary and some more quotes and examples at About.com.

  9. The only one I know is fanfuckingtastic.

  10. Stan says:

    S.E.: For some reason, that one has always sounded more sarcastic or ironic than enthusiastic to me.

  11. […] Webster would have loved LOLspeak, and Stan Carey discussed pragmatics, and on his own blog, an absoposilutely awesome […]

  12. […] from – These simple words have no equivalents in Finnish. The poor Finns are stuck putting suffixes on words. It’s a shame really. How do they […]

  13. […] cupsful), hip-hop lingo (hizouse), Simpsons-ese (saxomaphone, scrum-diddly-umptious), and expletive infixation (abso-bloody-lutely) – though here the insert is not an affix, so some would categorise this as tmesis. […]

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