The linguistic mor-fuckin-phology of English infixation

Chi Luu, for JSTOR Daily:

In expletive infixation, common obscene expletives or their milder variants, such as fucking/fuckin, freaking, flipping, effing, goddamn, damn (and bloody/blooming in British and Australian English contexts) are inserted productively into words to express a stronger vehemence.

  1. absolutely: abso-fucking-lutely, abso-bloody-lutely, abso-goddamn-lutely, abso-freaking-lutely
  2. Minnesota: Minne-fucking-sota
  3. fantastic: fan-bloody-tastic

We can see how different expletives can be inserted in exactly the same space in the word absolutely. English speakers can also quickly note that constructions such as *ab-fucking-solutely (infixed after the first syllable) and *fanta-bloody-stic (infixed after the second syllable) are technically possible yet do not sound right (linguistically indicated by an asterisk). This is the case even though the expletive happily appears after the first syllable in fan-tastic but the second syllable after abso-lutely. They somehow violate the unwritten rules of this infixation construction. Why is this so?

As someone who loves me some wordplay, it’s fascinating to see these things being broken down. I like how certain unspoken rules quickly develop around an otherwise organic process — people know when a violation has occurred. A perfect example is the newer (and shorter-lived) “doge speak,” which linguist Gretchen McCulloch wrote about last year in The Toast last year: “A Linguist Explains the Grammar of Doge. Wow.