Saturday, December 14, 2002
W O R D   P O W E R

The story of spoonerism

SPOONERISMS are named after the Reverend W. A. Spooner (1844-1930) who was Dean and Warden of New College in Oxford, England. He is reputed to have made these verbal slips frequently.

What is a spoonerism?

Spoonerisms are phrases, sentences, or words in language with sounds swapped. Usually this is done by accident, particularly if you're speaking fast. Come and wook out of the lindow is an example.

Of course, there are many millions of possible spoonerisms, but those which are of most interest - mainly for their amusement value - are the ones in which the spoonerism makes sense as well as the original phrase. Go and shake a tower and a well-boiled icicle illustrate this well (go and take a shower, well-oiled bicycle).

Since spoonerisms are a phonetic transposition, it is not so much the letters which are swapped as the sounds themselves. Transposing initial consonants in the speed of light gives the leed of spight which is clearly meaningless when written, but phonetically it becomes the lead of spite.


It is not restricted simply to the transposition of individual sounds; whole words or large parts of words may be swapped: to gap the bridge and manahuman soup (to bridge the gap, superhuman man). And sounds within a word may be transposed to form a spoonerism too, as in crinimal and cerely (criminal, celery). It is not uncommon for spoonerisms of this type to be created unintentionally.

Generally spoonerisms which are produced accidentally are transpositions between words which resemble one another phonetically, such as cuss and kiddle and slow and sneet (kiss and cuddle, snow and sleet).

Spooner's spoonerisms

Fighting a liar — lighting a fire

You hissed my mystery lecture — you missed my history lecture

Cattle ships and bruisers — battle ships and cruisers

Nosey little crook — cosy little nook

A blushing crow — a crushing blow

Tons of soil — sons of toil

Our queer old Dean — our dear old Queen

We'll have the hags flung out — we'll have the flags hung out

You've tasted two worms —you've wasted two terms

Our shoving leopard — our loving shepherd

A half-warmed fish — a half-formed wish

Is the bean dizzy? — is the Dean busy?