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A tumbarumba is not a belly-dance to South American music, as a contestant in a words competition in Australia once suggested. Nor does it directly address the town of that name that lies south-west of Canberra in New South Wales, though some of its inhabitants must surely tumbarumba without knowing that name for it.

No, tumbarumba is another name for tmesis, one form of which is that curious trick of stuffing one word into the middle of another. Abso-bloody-lutely, a whole nother, fan-bloody-tastic and any-blooming-where are classic cases, though many of the most powerful examples include stronger language: un-fucking-believable, irre-fucking-sponsible. For a reason buried in local linguistic history it’s a verbal tic Australians are fond of, who insert their favourite adjective, bloody, to great effect.

The origin of the term is disputed, but who can sensibly decry the claim of this de-flaming-lightful poem to be the origin:

“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.”

The Integrated Adjective, or Tumba Bloody Rumba, by John O’Grady.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 Feb. 2010

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 20 February 2010.