This week, more people looked up “tmesis” on Merriam-Webster online than any other word.
The site maintains a list of the ten words most researched there each week. If you follow world events and cross those entries with the Merriam-Webster list, sometimes you can figure out what happened that lots of people wanted to know more about.
In the 24 hours before Christmas, for instance, clearly someone overheard a conversation and went online. “Merry” and “Christmas” were sandwiched between “agnostic” and “pagan,” perhaps the fallout of two nice people with different theories about the universe.
“Pagan” has a snarky edge to it, though, and it seems clear from its position after “Merry” and “Christmas” --while “agnostic” came before them--that the conversation was beginning to escalate.
It turns out that “tmesis” means the “separation of parts of a compound word by the intervention of one or more words (as what place soever for whatsoever place).” A lot of readers must have been parsing e.e. cummings or the list of abstruse words that a British magazine carried that week.
“Pedantic” was tenth on the list just after Christmas, so possibly readers wanted to know what to call everyone else who was on Merriam-Webster. This week, the tenth entry was “resolution,” clearly the result of still-celebrating New Year’s revelers needing more information.
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Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org