In the realm of language and storytelling, few things captivate audiences, like the artful use of words and literary devices.

Today, we're going to go over something called 'Tmesis', which breaks words up to create emphasis. We'll dive into its meaning, origins, and the magic it can sprinkle into your screenplay.

Sound good?

Let's go.

Usage | Tmesis: A-whole-nother

Tmesis Definition 

Tmesis (pronounced teh-MEE-sis) is derived from the Greek word "temnein," meaning “to cut." It is a rhetorical device in which a word or phrase is separated into two parts, with other words interrupting between them.

Essentially, tmesis breaks up a word or phrase to create emphasis or bring attention to a particular sentiment or idea. Often by putting another word at the center.

Tmesis Examples

The cast of 'Tropic Thunder' posing in their military costumes'Tropic Thunder'

Credit: Paramount Pictures

In order to really understand tmesis, you have to see it in action. Let's look at a few examples to drill down what it means.

Examples in Everyday Language:

  • "Fan-freaking-tastic!" Here, the insertion of “freaking” amplifies the excitement or sarcasm depending on the context.
  • "What the actual Hell?" Here, "Hell" is a point of emphasis in the phrase.
  • "It's been a long-ass day" again, "ass" becomes the emphasis, saying that the day has been bad.

As you can see, you can use curse words or other points to describe how a day or action was, or to give a deeper understanding.

Why Filmmakers Use Tmesis

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy talking on stage in 'The Newsroom'

'The Newsroom'

Credit: HBO

So, why do filmmakers use this technique? Let's unpack the easy.

  1. Emphasis & Emotional Depth: By breaking a word or phrase, you can place emphasis where you want it, drawing the audience's attention and making them feel the weight or excitement of a moment.
  2. Character Development: Characters who use tmesis can stand out. It can be a trademark style for a character, making them memorable.
  3. Humor & Wit: Tmesis can be used for comedic effect. The unexpected insertion can catch the audience off-guard, leading to laughter.
  4. Naturalistic Dialogue: Everyday speech is often peppered with pauses, breaks, and interjections. Using tmesis can make dialogue sound more authentic and relatable.

What are some tips for using tmesis in your writing?

First off, just don't overdo it. Like any stylistic choice, moderation is key. Not every character will naturally use this device. Make sure it aligns with the character's voice and the tone of the scene.

Finally, try to read it aloud. Sometimes what looks good on paper might sound awkward when spoken. Ensure that the flow and rhythm feel right when vocalized.

Whether you're writing a screenplay, a novel, or crafting dialogue for any medium, consider the artful insertion of tmesis to give your words that extra punch.

Remember, storytelling is as much about the words you choose as it is about the spaces, breaks, and interruptions in between. Embrace tmesis, and let your narratives shine even brighter!