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A spoonerism is an error in speech or deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched (see metathesis) between two words in a phrase,[1] for example saying "The Lord is a shoving leopard." instead of "The Lord is a loving shepherd." While 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.

Etymology Edit

It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this mistake.[2][3] A spoonerism is also known as a marrowsky, purportedly after a Polish count who suffered from the same impediment.[4]


Most of the quotations attributed to Spooner are apocryphal; The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edition, 1979) lists only one substantiated spoonerism: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer" (instead of "rate of wages"). Spooner claimed[2] that "The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take" (in reference to a hymn)[5] was his sole spoonerism. Most spoonerisms were probably never uttered by William Spooner himself, but rather made up by colleagues and students as a pastime.[6] Richard Lederer, calling "Kinkering Kongs their Titles Take" (with an alternative spelling) one of the "few" authenticated Spoonerisms, dates it to 1879, and gives nine examples "attributed to Spooner, most of them spuriously".[7] They are:

  • "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)
  • "A blushing crow." (crushing blow)
  • "A well-boiled icicle" (well-oiled bicycle)
  • "You were fighting a liar in the quadrangle." (lighting a fire)
  • "Is the bean dizzy?" (Dean busy)
  • "Someone is occupewing my pie. Please sew me to another sheet." (Someone is occupying my pew. Please show me to another seat.)
  • "You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted a whole worm. Please leave Oxford on the next town drain." (You have missed all my history lectures. You have wasted a whole term. Please leave Oxford on the next down train.)[7]

A newspaper column[3] attributes this additional example to Spooner: "A nosey little cook." (cozy little nook).

Popular useEdit

In modern terms, "spoonerism" generally refers to any changing of sounds in this manner.

  • In Maisie and the Pinny Gig by Ursula Dubosarsky, a little girl named Maisie has a recurrent dream about a giant guinea pig, which she calls a "pinny gig."[8]
  • In Jim Henson's Muppet rendition of "The Frog Prince", the princess is under an enchantment by an evil witch forcing her to constantly speak in spoonerisms. Central to the story is her repeated plea that somebody "bake the hall in the candle of her brain," by which she really means "break the ball in the handle of her cane," referring to the orb in the witch's scepter on which her powers depend.


In his poem "Translation," Brian P. Cleary describes a boy named Alex who speaks in spoonerisms (like "shook a tower" instead of "took a shower"). Humorously, Cleary leaves the poem's final spoonerism up to the reader when he says,

He once proclaimed, "Hey, belly jeans"
When he found a stash of jelly beans.
But when he says he pepped in stew
We'll tell him he should wipe his shoe.[9]

Twisted talesEdit

Comedian F. Chase Taylor was the star of the 1930s radio program Stoopnagle and Budd, in which his character, Colonel Stoopnagle, used spoonerisms. In 1945 he published a book, My Tale is Twisted, consisting of 44 "spoonerised" versions of well-known children's stories. Subtitled "Wart Pun: Aysop's Feebles" and "Tart Pooh: Tairy and Other Fales", these included such tales as "Beeping Sleauty" for "Sleeping Beauty". The book was republished in 2001 by Stone and Scott Publishers as Stoopnagle's Tale is Twisted.[10]


In the Mel Brooks film Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees) constantly speaks in spoonerisms. An example of this: "Struckey has loxed again!" - "Loxley has struck again!"

Kniferism and forkerismEdit

As complements to spoonerism, Douglas Hofstadter used the nonce terms kniferism and forkerism to refer to changing the syllables of two words, giving them a new meaning.Template:When Examples of so-called kniferisms include a British television newsreader once referring to the police at a crime scene removing a 'hypodeemic nerdle'; a television announcer once saying that "All the world was thrilled by the marriage of the Duck and Doochess of Windsor"[11] and during a live broadcast in 1931, radio presenter Harry von Zell accidentally mispronouncing US President Herbert Hoover's name, "Hoobert Heever."[11][12] Usage of these new terms has been limited; many sources count any syllable exchange as a spoonerism, regardless of location.[13][14]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. (2002) The New dictionary of cultural literacy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. URL accessed 20 May 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 includeonly>"Names make news", Time, 1928-10-29. Retrieved on 2008-09-20.
  3. 3.0 3.1 includeonly>"Spoonerism Message Lost in Translation", Toledo Blade, 1980-11-03.
  4. Chambers Dictionary 1993 ISBN 0-550-10255-8
  5. Bartlett, John [1855] (1992). Justin Kaplan Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th, 533, Little, Brown and Company.
  6. Quinion, Michael Spoonerism. World Wide Words. URL accessed on September 19, 2008.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lederer, Richard (1988). Get Thee to a Punnery, 137–148, Charleston, South Carolina: Wyrick & Co..
  8. retrieved July 3, 2012
  9. Cleary, Brian P. "Rainbow Soup: Adventures in Poetry." Minneapolis, MN: CarolRhoda, 2004.
  10. Stoopnagle's Tale is Twisted, by Ken James. URL accessed on November 3, 2008.
  11. 11.0 11.1 ((Dec., 1956)) Phonemic and Analogic Lapses in Radio and Television Speech. American Speech 31 (4): 252–263.
  12. Harry von Zell and Hoobert Heever. URL accessed on Feb 2, 2009.
  13. spoonerism definition. URL accessed on Feb 2, 2009.
  14. spoonerism: Definition from URL accessed on Feb 2, 2009.

External linksEdit

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