Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin’ kanga-bloody-roos

with 11 comments

I was going to make this quick, but then I found a poem, and that led to a YouTube clip… any-old-how, my word of the day is ‘tmesis’, and – by complete coincidence – ‘any-old-how’ is a brilliant example of it.

Possibly the only word in the English language to begin with the letters ‘tm’, ‘tmesis’ is a noun and means the practice of separating a word with another word (as in ‘old’ inserted into ‘anyhow’).

These days, it’s a device that is mostly used for emphasis and humour. In Blighty, for example, we are very fond of inserting the mild expletive ‘bloody’, as in, for example, ‘abso-bloody-lutely’. It’s interesting to note that you have to insert the interloping word in the right place for it to ‘work’. ‘Ab-bloody-solutely’, for example, doesn’t cut the mustard.

Other examples include:

  • Some-damn-where
  • A-whole-nother
  • Inde-goddam-pendent

The plural is ‘tmeses’ and it’s derived from Greek meaning ‘cutting’ or ‘to cut’.

The Australian writer John O’Grady (1907-1981) provides some brilliant examples of tmesis in his 1959 poem The Integrated Adjective including ‘e-bloody-nough’; ‘kanga-bloody-roos’; and ‘Tumba-bloody-rumba’. (Tumbarumba is a town in New South Wales, Australia.)

The Integrated Adjective

I was down on Riverina, knockin’ round the towns a bit,
An’ occasionally restin’, with a schooner in me mitt;
An’ on one o’ these occasions, when the bar was pretty full
an’ the local blokes were arguin’ assorted kinds o’ bull,
I heard a conversation, most peculiar in its way,
Because only in Australia would you hear a joker say,
“Where yer bloody been, yer drongo? ‘Aven’t seen yer fer a week;
“An’ yer mate was lookin’ for yer when ‘e come in from the Creek;
“‘E was lookin’ up at Ryan’s, an’ around at bloody Joe’s,
“An’ even at the Royal where ‘e bloody never goes.”
An’ the other bloke said “Seen ‘im. Owed ‘im ‘alf a bloody quid,
“Forgot ter give ut back to ‘im; but now I bloody did.
“Coulda used the thing me-bloody-self; been orf the bloody booze,
“Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin’ kanga-bloody-roos.”

Now their voices were a little loud, an’ everybody heard
The peculiar integration of this adjectival word.
But no one there was laughin’, an’ me I wasn’t game,
So I stood around an’ let ’em think I spoke the bloody same.
An’ one of ’em was interested to ask ‘im what he’d got-
How many kanga-bloody-roos he bloody went and shot-
An’ the shootin’ bloke said, “Things are crook; the drought’s too bloody tough;
“I got forty-bloody-seven, an’ that’s good e-bloody-nough.”
An’ this polite rejoinder seemed to satisfy the mob,
An’ everyone stopped listenin’ an’ got on with the job,
Which was drinkin’ beer and arguin’ an’ talkin’ of the heat,
An’ stickin’ in the bitumen in the middle of the street;
But as for me, I’m here to say the interestin’ news
Was “Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin’ kanga-bloody-roos.”


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Written by Wordwatch

21/02/2012 at 4:52 pm

11 Responses

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  1. tmesis is also used as a suffix in the medical terms neurotmesis and axonotmesis, indicating cutting injuries of neurones/axons as distinct from crushing injuries


    21/02/2012 at 8:20 pm

    • Hi, there

      Thank you very much for sharing that info here. In the full version of the Oxford English Dictionary I found the word ‘tmetic’, described as a ‘rare and obselete’ medical term meaning ‘cutting, loosening, resolving’. How interesting to see that ‘tmesis’ is still used for medical terms as you describe. Thanks again, much appreciated!


      21/02/2012 at 8:32 pm

  2. Hi Deborah! Finding–making–some time today to catch up! Never heard of tmesis, but of course am familiar with ‘interrupted’ words. So very interesting! And that poem is such vibrant narrative! As is Jack Thompson’s reading. I love the Australians for their easy articulation…if you know what I mean.


    05/03/2012 at 8:30 pm

    • Hi, Diane

      Thanks for dropping by; it’s always lovely to see you here. Especially when you are so busy! One thing led to another with this post; I don’t often include video clips, but I made an exception as I, too, liked the reading so much. Yes — Australians and their easy articulation (wonderful phrase!): what’s not to like?


      06/03/2012 at 8:29 am

  3. Thank you for this treasure. So funny; so clever; so Australian! I am told the locals at Yackandanda refer to it as Yacka****ingdanda. Is this true? I hope it is! You Aussies are something else, as they say!


    04/04/2013 at 6:37 am

    • Hi! I’m glad you enjoyed this. I’m not Australian, so can’t answer your question — maybe someone else will be able to!

      (Sorry about the asterisk thing; my mum reads this and doesn’t like swearing.)


      04/04/2013 at 7:10 am

    • Some locals will tell you anything, anywhere, anytime. No, it’s not true.


      19/02/2016 at 6:40 am

  4. Lol I live in tumbarumba haha


    18/07/2014 at 10:47 am

    • 🙂


      19/07/2014 at 1:32 pm

      • John O’Grady is best known in Australia, where I live, for using the pen-name “Nino Culotta” (meaning, Johnny Trousers) and writing “They’re a Weird Mob”, supposedly BY Nino Culotta, supposedly an Italian journalist sent to Australia — Sydney — to observe Australians in their natural habitat. The novel was funny, and a run-away best-seller, and later became s film — the second-last — made by Michael Powell and Emerich Pressberger, themselves famous for “A Matter of Life and Death” and “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” and other British classics. The film is funny, too. The novel and the film explored working class Australians and their culture and slanguage! There were then several sequel novels.

        John Gough

        15/03/2019 at 8:57 am

        • Thanks for this! Very interesting. I had no idea about the connection to Powell and Pressburger. 🙂


          15/03/2019 at 6:36 pm

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