I have been subscribed to Ashleigh Brilliant‘s newsletter for about a year now and it is always interesting. (I’ve also syndicated his “Potshot of the Day“.
His latest email, though, had me smiling throughout and also taught me a thing or two. So I deemed it worthy of a blog post. (This is obviously a rarity.)
Please read no farther if you are in any way offended by very vulgar language.—————————————————————————————————-
Once again something has happened to remind me that we are never too old to learn (or, more brutally, that it’s possible to be wrong all your life.) Back in the 1950’s, when I was about 20 and a student at the University of London, I had a job for a few days doing manual labor on a construction site. My fellow workmen were all regular laborers, a different class of people from those with whom I normally associated, and their manner of expression was to my ears shockingly coarse.
Until then, I had led a rather sheltered life, and in my family any word stronger than “damn” (which my father uttered only in moments of great stress) was absolutely taboo. But these men seemed to use those nasty words, and in particular the various conjugations of “fuck,” as a kind of punctuation. The one thing I have always remembered most vividly from that entire experience was one man saying to another in a loud voice:“I FUCKIN’ SWEAR I’VE SEEN YOU SOMEWHERE BE-FUCKIN’-FORE.”
I have carried that memory all these years, not just as an example of extreme verbal vulgarity, but also because such a linguistic construction was totally new to me. And since I have never heard its like again, I had always thought that what I heard must have been a somewhat rare and creative use of language. I have never dared to share this recollection in print, and would not be doing so even now, had I not just discovered that, far from being rare, that kind of expression is so familiar to scholars that there is actually a name for it. What’s more, there is even a poem celebrating it! And the poem itself is so celebrated (at least in Australia) that it has apparently given this type of expression an alternative name..
The official, or traditional, name is TMESIS, which goes back to ancient Greece, and means “inserting a word into another word for intensifying effect.” The much newer term is TUMBARUMBA, which is the name of a small town in New South Wales.
My eyes were opened to all this quite recently by a new book by Roy Blount Jr, called “ALPHABET JUICE,” which fanatical lovers of word meanings, origins, and usages (of whom, generally speaking, I must say I am not one) will surely find endlessly fascinating. Mr. Blount gives various examples of TMESIS, such as “IM-BLOODY-POSSIBLE” and “ABSO-BLOOMING-LUTELY” — although he makes it clear that vulgarity is not a prerequisite, and the expression can be as mild as “A WHOLE NOTHER” and “ANY-OLD-WHERE.”
The celebratory poem is by the popular Australian writer John Patrick O’Grady. (1907-1981) Apparently he originally titled it “The Integrated Adjective” — but for good reason the poem, (and by now, if not since long before the poem was written, the town itself) is famous as TUMBA BLOODY RUMBA.
I will give you the entire text, in which you will notice that “bloody” (originally a religious oath — “by our Lady” — and for some reason much more repugnant to Brits than to Americans) is the expletive of choice, rather than the purely sexual (and thus I suppose even more reprehensible) “fuckin'”.of my youthful remembrance — but otherwise the general concept is just the same:
“Tumba Bloody Rumba”
I was down the Riverina, knockin’ ’round the towns a bit,
And occasionally resting with a schooner in me mitt,
And on one of these occasions, when the bar was pretty full
And the local blokes were arguin’ assorted kind of bull,
I heard a conversation, most peculiar in its way.
It’s only in Australia you would hear a joker say:
“Howya bloody been, ya drongo, haven’t seen ya fer a week,
And yer mate was lookin’ for ya when ya come in from the creek.
‘E was lookin’ up at Ryan’s, and around at bloody Joe’s,
And even at the Royal, where ‘e bloody NEVER goes”.
And the other bloke says “Seen ‘im? Owed ‘im half a bloody quid.
Forgot to give it back to him, but now I bloody did –
Could’ve used the thing me bloody self. Been off the bloody booze,
Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin’ kanga-bloody-roos.”
Now the bar was pretty quiet, and everybody heard
The peculiar integration of this adjectival word,
But no-one there was laughing, and me – I wasn’t game,
So I just sits back and lets them think I spoke the bloody same.
Then someone else was interested to know just what he got,
How many kanga-bloody-roos he went and bloody shot,
And the shooting bloke says “Things are crook –
the drought’s too bloody tough.
I got forty-two by seven, and that’s good e-bloody-nough.”
And, as this polite rejoinder seemed to satisfy the mob,
Everyone stopped listening and got on with the job,
Which was drinkin’ beer, and arguin’, and talkin’ of the heat,
Of boggin’ in the bitumen in the middle of the street,
But as for me, I’m here to say the interesting piece of news
Was Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin’ kanga-bloody-roos.*****
Auatralia has always been one of my favorite countries — and not just because I seem to have a disproportionate number of fans and customers there. But any country that could take on the entire force of world scholarship and single-handedly replace TMESIS with TUMBARUMBA. is good e-bloody-nough for me.
All the best,
P.S. Bitumen is what Australians call asphalt — and no, I do not condone the shooting of kangaroos.ASHLEIGH BRILLIANT, 117 W. Valerio St. Santa Barbara CA 93101 USA. Phone (805) 682-0531 Orders:(800) 952-3879, Code #77. Creator of POT-SHOTS, syndicated author of I MAY NOT BE TOTALLY PERFECT, BUT PARTS OF ME ARE EXCELLENT. 10,000 copyrighted BRILLIANT THOUGHTS available as cards, books etc.World’s highest-paid writer (per word). Most-quoted author (per Reader’s Digest.) Free daily Pot-Shot cartoon: www.ashleighbrilliant.com CATALOGS:[h&m included]. Starter $2. Complete Printed version: $18 Electronic Text-Only (emailed $25, on CD $30). Electronic Illustrated Catalog/Database (CD only) $105 (includes shipping anywhere). Details: www.ashleighbrilliant.com/IllustratedCatalog.html