15 March 2011

Spoonerisms

William Spooner as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward)
in Vanity Fair, April 1898


An email from a George Sanders last month said that "On your site you mention exchanging different parts of words such as might be the cause of the name for Buck Cherry. I just wanted to add that this is called a Spoonerism,and it's named after a real man."

And, by George, he's correct. He is referencing our old site on name origins which still, unfortunately, gets too much attention. But his email inspired me to repost on the band Buck Cherry and also today to post on spoonerisms.

A spoonerism is an error in speech or a deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched.

It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to accidentally saying these. (It is also known as a marrowsky, after a Polish count who suffered from the same impediment.)

Spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue resulting from unintentionally getting one's words in a tangle, they can also be used intentionally as a play on words and in humor, especially drunk jokes.

Wikipedia lists some of the ones attributed to Mr. Spooner but admits that The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists only one truly substantiated spoonerism: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer."

So, William Spooner himself probably didn't say many or any of the ones attributed to him (especially the clever word play ones), but they may have come from his colleagues and students as a game.

"Three cheers for our queer old dean!" (dear old queen, referring to Queen Victoria)

"Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?" (customary to kiss)

"The Lord is a shoving leopard." (a loving shepherd)

In more modern times, spoonerisms are any changing of sounds in this manner.

"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy" has been attributed to W. C. Fields, Tom Waits, and most commonly Dorothy Parker. It's a clever one that not only shifts the beginning sounds of the word lobotomy, but the entire phrase "frontal lobotomy."
Singer and drunk-humor aficionado Dean Martin took it a bit further saying "I would rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy."

Shel Silverstein's last children's book was entitled Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.


Tarp as a Shack Spoonerism Humor Dark T-Shirt by CafePress
Tarp as a Shack T-Shirt


Books of Spoonerisms

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