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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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19 Comments on “Spoonerisms”

  1. #1 LeAnne Solt
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 9:11 am

    One phrase I always have to think twice about before using is “fell swoop.” If you get it wrong, you don’t usually realize it until you get to the second word … exactly what is a “foop,” anyway? 🙂

  2. #2 David McGuire
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Although it isn’t a real “spoonerism,” I always liked the one extolling the virtues of “applehood and mother pie.”

    And how humorously ironic is it that this all began with a guy by the name of Archibald Spooner. That is hilarious in itself. Perhaps we could start a new genre of puns and call them “Loachisms.” Well, maybe not!

  3. #3 Vikki
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Very punny fole you have there!

    I must say I’m guilty of spoonerisms – both by accident and on purpose (more often on purpose I’m afraid. . .).

    One accidental spoonerism from over 30 years ago has stuck with Dave and myself. We have 2 very good friends named Toni and George who will forever in our minds be Goni and Teorge – sorry guys. Gotta love the English language!!

  4. #4 Sam
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    One recent spoonerism of mine – I said I wanted to watch Marred Match-ness instead of March Madness.

  5. #5 Rob
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    @LeAnne – I use “one swell foop” with a fair bit of regularity. 🙂

    @David – “applehood and mother pie” is a new one to me, but it seems as if it would fall within the parameters of spoonerisms. And as far as “Loachisms” are concerned, I had two enterprising young men one semester who, throughout the semester, compiled a list of Loachisms that they distributed to their classmates and me with great glee at the end of the semester.

    @Vikki – Somehow I can just see you doing spoonerisms…. 😀

    @Sam – I love it! :rotfl:

  6. #6 Laura
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I *thought* we’d already had Loachisms around somewhere! Though I’m not entirely convinced that they’re merely linguistic. There are behavioral ones, too. I’ll never forget sitting in class, and you’d look at one student, point to another, and call on a third! It really kept us on our toes!

    Do you still have your Loachisms list? Can you post a few samples from it in the comments? Most of what I remember is “franglais” and deliberately wild mispronunciations.

    Didn’t make it to Faculty Body, but it looks like I REALLY missed out this year. Have a great week!

  7. #7 Rob
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    @Laura – Here are several “Loachisms” from that list:

    It seems like a lot to remember, but it really is.

    What’s in the road, a head?

    Laura, I thought for sure you would have spelled it “mispronOUnciations.” 😀

  8. #8 Michael
    on Mar 26th, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    My wife’s sister can sometimes make some unintentionally funny comments. She’s talked about getting her “gameday” on instead of “game face”. She’s enjoyed having “small chat” with people rather than “small talk” or “chit chat”.

    Instead of describing a couple as “dating” she said they were “mating”.

    And, my favorite. A few months ago she ate some venison that did not agree with her. She later commented that “the venison gave me a run for my buck.”

  9. #9 Rob
    on Mar 27th, 2009 at 8:40 am

    @Michael – Your sister-in-law must be a constant source of laughs and at least occasional embarrassment with her spoonerisms and malaprops. 😀 Thanks for sharing and for guarding her anonymity.

  10. #10 Terry E.
    on Mar 27th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    A favorite economical meal in our family is “chac and meese”.

    My wife works at a local hospital where they sell “chilled greese” sandwiches to their staff for lunch.

  11. #11 Rob
    on Mar 27th, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    @Terry – YIKES! Both dishes sound borderline lethal! 🙂

  12. #12 Esther
    on Mar 27th, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    After a yummy lunch: “That sure was a malicious deal!”

  13. #13 Sharon
    on Mar 28th, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Don’t forget about that holiday in February….

    George Birthington’s Wash Day!

  14. #14 Andrew N.
    on Mar 28th, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Very wonderful piece Mr. Loach! I worked on cars my last 2 years of high school in Atlanta. The 2 guys I worked with from my church and I would always be wixing up our mords just for gicks and kiggles!

  15. #15 Andrew N.
    on Mar 28th, 2009 at 9:38 am

    An addendum to the last post, we always called it being “lysdexic”!!!!

  16. #16 Rob
    on Mar 28th, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    @Esther, Sharon, and Andrew – Thanks for sharing those examples. 😆

  17. #17 Dave
    on Mar 29th, 2009 at 2:03 am

    My favorite quote attributed to Spooner is: “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?”

    Interesting thing about Spooner is that he was an albino! If there’s anyone you should take the time to read about, it would be Spooner. By all accounts he was a very absent-minded man in many ways – it would be quite the entertaining read for you.

  18. #18 Rob
    on Mar 29th, 2009 at 8:51 am

    @Dave – I had seen that in the various bios I read on Spooner but didn’t want my post to be too long. I’m glad you added it for those who read the comments. 🙂

  19. #19 b.j.
    on Mar 30th, 2009 at 11:43 am

    My favorite ever is when my (ex) pastor’s wife introduced herself at a ladies meeting “I’m Pudy Jotter the Wastor’s Pife”!