Earlier this week a reader requested a piece on spoonerisms.
Spoonerisms are words in phrases in which the first letters or syllables are switched, often inadvertently. They can be simple slips of the tongue or deliberate plays on words.
The spoonerism is named for the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was famous for his slips, perhaps the most storied of which was a toast he made at a University event, in which he proposed, “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” Another account of that story has Rev. Spooner having said, “Let us glaze our asses and toast the queer dean.”
As I have worked through the many word plays for this blog, I’ve skipped over spoonerisms quite a few times. I can think of two possible reasons.
One, I don’t find spoonerisms as funny as many people do. And they’re often associated with inebriation, as in “tee martoonis.” Two, I once committed such an offensive, yet inadvertent spoonerism that it was intensely traumatic, both for me and a waiter, and nearly got me thrown out of a restaurant in 1994. I didn’t have the courage to go back until 2007.
However, for those who do find amusement in spoonerisms, there are far more examples out on the Internet than on any word plays we’ve covered here. So, please, go forth and giggle.
According to a website called The Straight Dope (caution, it’s addictive, you’ll lose an entire afternoon): There is some difference of opinion about what constitutes a true spoonerism. Some authorities view that a spoonerism can only involve an exchange of initial sounds (usually consonants); thus, “peas and carrots” becomes “keys and parrots.” Others allow transposition of syllables (“Don’t put all your Basques in one exit”) or word parts (“When I throw rocks at seagulls, I leave no tern unstoned.”). And others allow the transposition of entire words (“The cows sent into orbit became known as the first herd shot round the world.”)
I bet you have spoonerisms to share. Feel free to leave as many as you like here, but you won’t catch me milling spine.