February 08, 2014

“Tmesis” ཞེས་པའི་དཔེར་བརྗོད།

The word “tmesis” is listed as one of “five English words that are utterly unique” in: http://thesaurus.com. It states: “The sole term in the English language to begin with tm- has an unusual meaning to match. Tmesis is the insertion of one or more words between the words that make up a compound phrase. For example: ‘what-so-ever’ inserted in the middle of ‘whatever.’” In Tibetan, the insertion of ma as in the case of ra ma lug (“neither goat nor sheep”) would be a tmesis. There may be other examples.


  1. Dear D,

    Speaking of tmesis... Why don't you write something about -re-? Stephen Beyer, in his grammar, wrote this on p. 385:

    "A compound may become an exclamation when the syllable -re-is inserted between its two components—for
    example, sñii-rdze "compassion" sñin-re-rdze "What a shame!" skyug-log "disgust'' skyug-re-log "How
    disgusting!" Such an exclamation can even be predicated of a participantfor example, sems-tsan sñin-re-rdze "The
    poor creatures!" khyod-ran sñin-re-rdze ''How you are to be pitied!" Or it can be nominalized with -Pa and used
    as the modifier of a nominal headthus sñin-re-rdze-bai sdig-tsan dmyal-bar ltun "The sinner—how to be pitied!—falls
    to hell." Other such exclamatory compounds include ñams-dga "joy" ñams-re-dga "Wonderful!" blo-bde
    "happiness" blo-re-bde "What happiness!" o-brgyal "fatigue" o-re-brgyal "How tired!" ze-Ndzigs "fear" ze-re-
    Ndzigs "How frightful!" yi-mug "despair" yi-re-mug "Alas!" Such exclamations have apparently deep roots in the
    Tibetan language: in an archaic ninth-century manuscript from Central Asia we find the exclamation o-na bu-re
    stug-re-bsnal "Oh my only son, what suffering!""

    I know of one brief article on this subject by Walter Simon: "Tibetan re in its Wider Context," Bulletin of the School of Oriental & African Studies, vol. 31 (1968), pp. 555-562.

    I remember being puzzled a lot by sentences ending with re-shi. And even more confused when instead it was spelled ri-shi. Now I guess I would translate "sooner die than..." I think it's the same syllable RE there, just it's not exactly tmesis going on there is it? And what about re-kan?

    Enough for now. Gotta go. Good morning to you and all. Looks like a nice day.


  2. Dear D, I read Simon 1968, an excellent article I thought. Respect! I do not have access to Simon 1967 (on °a re and re skan). One can only try to digest what is suggested there. One cannot supersede it. D.

  3. Simon 1968 retracts some of the explanations offered in Simon 1967.