Have you ever heard of spoonerisms? Or better yet, have you ever uttered a spoonerism inadvertently? A former French student of mine and a long-time ivman reader who knows my love for punning let me know that the Word of the Day this past Monday, March 23, on dictionary.com was "spoonerism." I told him his e-mail had moved one of my posts that had been simmering on a back burner to the front burner. Read on to learn more about spoonerisms....
By definition a spoonerism is a word that describes the unintentional transposition of two sounds within a word or phrase. This transposition usually involves (a) the sounds created by the initial letters of words within a phrase; (b) whole words; or (c) the initial sounds of syllables within one word.
"I just saw a monarch butterfly!"
"I just saw a monarch flutter by!"
"Vulcans do not shoot from the hip, Captain."
"Vulcans do not hoot from the ship, Captain."
The term "spoonerism" was coined around 1900, after the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930). He was a distinguished British cleric and scholar who served as Dean and Warden of Oxford's New College for a period of some 40 years but is best known for the many humorous misstatements attributed to him. According to the New College website at Oxford University, Spooner "almost certainly never uttered a 'spoonerism,' but equally certainly had a number of curious verbal traits." In any case, many have insisted that he indeed uttered most of the spoonerisms attributed to him.
Spoonerisms are linguistic flip-flops that turn "a well-oiled bicycle" into "a well-boiled icicle" and other ludicrous ways speakers of English get their "mix all talked up." It is said that Spooner once addressed a group of farmers as "ye noble tons of soil," queried after a university official by asking "Is the bean dizzy?" and admonished a student because he had "tasted two worms" and "hissed all my mystery lectures."
English is a fertile soil for spoonerisms, as author and lecturer Richard Lederer points out, because our language has more than three times as many words as any other – over 618,000 and growing at 450 a year. Consequently, there's a greater chance that any accidental transposition of letters or syllables will produce rhyming substitutes that still make sense – well, sort of.... A word of caution – I do not advise one's attempting to develop a habit of doing spoonerisms since some can be quite embarrassing or even vulgar.
Some of the best known "tips of the slung" attributed to the Rev. Spooner...
fighting a liar – lighting a fire
cattle ships and bruisers – battle ships and cruisers
nosey little cook – cosy little nook
a blushing crow – a crushing blow
our queer old Dean – our dear old Queen
we'll have the hags flung out – we'll have the flags hung out
our shoving leopard – our loving shepherd
a half–warmed fish – a half–formed wish
Some spoonerisms others have made...
know your blows – blow your nose
go and shake a tower – go and take a shower
nicking your pose – picking your nose
a lack of pies – a pack of lies
sealing the hick – healing the sick
pit nicking – nit picking
wave the sails – save the whales
chipping the flannel on TV – flipping the channel on TV
I'm shout of the hour – I'm out of the shower
lead of spite – speed of light
I hit my bunny phone – I hit my funny bone
bedding wells – wedding bells
I must mend the sail – I must send the mail
It crawls through the fax – It falls through the cracks
Would you like a nasal hut? – Would you like a hazel nut?
Here's a story where the final barb of the pun-chline is a spoonerism:
Once there was a horse that was in agony. Several birds were building nests in his mane and nothing he did would make them stop. The noise and activity were driving the horse crazy. So, he decided to see the wise old owl for help. The old owl told him to go home and put some yeast in his mane and all would be well.
The horse thought this was a bit nutty, but out of desperation, he did what the owl told him.
The next morning the mane was completely clear of nests. The very surprised horse trotted excitedly to the owl's house.
When asked why the yeast worked, the owl replied, "Horse, don't you know that yeast is yeast and nest is nest and never the mane shall tweet?"
"When you pull out the gospel thread, a believer's life unravels." - Dr. Drew Conley
"Noah's stock was floating high while everyone else in the world was in liquidation." - Les Ollila
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