Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A Spoonerism is a play on words in which corresponding consonants or vowels are switched (see metathesis), named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency. Some of his famous (and possibly apocryphal) quotes from the chapel include "The lord is a shoving leopard," "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride," and "Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?." (Pardon me, madam, this pew is occupied. Can I show you to another seat?) The spoonerism is a now legendary 'slip of the tongue.'
Other gaffes worth mentioning are his angry speech to a student, "You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain," actually intending to say missed history, lighting fire, wasted terms, and train down, respectively. A few more which you can probably work out for yourself include "We must drink a toast to the queer old Dean", "We'll have the hags flung out", "a half-warmed fish" and "Is the bean dizzy?"
President George W. Bush is known for curious turns of phrase, some of which may be considered spoonerisms. "If the terriers and bariffs (barriers and tariffs) are torn down, this economy will grow." (January 7, 2001 in Rochester, New York).
In modern terms, spoonerism is any swapping of letters in this manner. While simple enough to do, a clever spoonerism is one that results in a funny phrase or sentence. "Flutterby" is an oft-cited example of a spoonerism that has not lost its original meaning. The Capitol Steps have successfully done a few political comedy routines ("Lirty Dies") based on this premise. The comedian Ronnie Barker played the Reverend in a sketch on The Two Ronnies TV show. An alleged spoonerism led to the nickname "the Canadian Broadcorping Castration." The Shel Silverstein book Runny Babbit , published posthumously in 2005 consists entirely of poetry (and illustrations) filled with spoonerisms.
Spoonerisms are prolific in a few other languages. For example, the quirks of the Finnish language (such as vowel harmony and a relatively narrow selection of phonemes) lend themselves well for this purpose, and Finnish sanankäännökset ('word-turnings') a.k.a. sananmuunnokset ('word transformations'), mainly used in jokes, in all likelihood predate Rev. Spooner.
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