Saturday, July 22, 2006

July 22: Spoonerism Day

Today is the birthday of the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, born in London in 1844. Spooner lectured in history, philosophy, and divinity at Oxford University. He was small in stature and an albino, but it was his words not his appearance that made him famous.

Spooner has been immortalized in the dictionary by what we call today spoonerisms: slips of the tongue where the initial consonant sounds of words are reversed, as in one of Spooner's famous flubs -- he was officiating a wedding and after pronouncing the couple man and wife said to the groom: "Son, it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride." The error, of course, was reversing the sounds of the c in customary with the k in kiss (1).

Reverend Spooner is certainly not the only person to make this kind of error. In fact, it is quite common, and, as explained by Richard Lederer, more common in English than any other language:

The larger the number of words in a language, the greater the likelihood that two or more words will rhyme. Because English possesses almost four times the number of words of any other language, it is afflicted with a delightful case of rhymatic fever. A ghost town becomes a toast gown. A toll booth becomes a bowl tooth. A bartender becomes a tar bender. Motion pictures become potion mixtures. And your local Wal-Mart becomes a Mall Wart!

More rhymes mean more possible spoonerisms. That’s why English is the most tough and rumble of all languages, full of thud and blunder. That's why English is the most spoonerizable tongue ever invented. That's why you will enter this discussion optimistically and leave it misty optically.

Today's Challenge: Translating Silver Spoonerisms
Celebrate Soonerism Day by translating the quotes below: some of the legendary lines from Reverend Spooner. Once you've done that, try your own hand at constructing some spoonerisms.

1. Sir, you have tasted two whole worms.

2. I believe you're occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?"

3. The Lord is a shoving leopard.

4. Is the bean dizzy?

5. one swell foop

6. a blushing crow

7. When the boys come home from France, we'll have the hags flung out.

8. You hissed my mystery lecture (1)

Quote of the Day: Bloopers are the lowlife of verbal error, but spoonerisms are a different fettle of kitsch. --Roger Rosenbaltt

1. Sir, you have wasted two whole terms.
2. I believe you're occupying my pew. May I show you another seat?
3. The Lord is a loving shepherd.
4. Is the dean busy?
5. One fell swoop
6. A crushing blow
7. When the boys come home from France, we'll have the flags hung out.
8. You missed my history lecture.

1 - Reader's Digest, February 1995

2 - Lederer, Richard. "Gag Me With a Spoonerism."


Neel Mehta said...

2. Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

2. Work is the curse of the working classes.

Shouldn't it be "Drink is the curse of the working classes"?

Neel Mehta said...

2. I believe you're occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?"

That's certainly one way to fix it. Well done!

gayle said...

The Pink Panther stretches this one even further:

A writ of fealous jage