A spoonerism is an error in speech or deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched (see metathesis). It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency.[1][2] A spoonerism is also known as a marrowsky, after a Polish count who suffered from the same impediment.[3] 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. In some cultures, spoonerisms are used as a rhyme form used in poetry, such as German Schüttelreime. In French, "contrepèterie" is a national sport, the subject of entire books and a weekly section of Le Canard enchaîné. Spoonerisms are commonly used intentionally in humour.



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[1] that "The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take" (in reference to a hymn)[4] 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.[5] Richard Lederer, calling "Kinkering Kongs their Titles Take" (with an alternate spelling) one of the "few" authenticated Spoonerisms, dates it to 1879, and gives nine examples "attributed to Spooner, most of them spuriously".[6] 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." (occupying my pew...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." (missed...history, wasted...term, down train)[6]

A newspaper column[2] attributes this additional example to Spooner: "A nosey little cook." (cozy little nook).

Popular use

In modern terms, "spoonerism" generally refers to any changing of sounds in this manner.[original research?]

  • One example is "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy" (variously attributed to W. C. Fields, Tom Waits, and most commonly Dorothy Parker), which not only shifts the beginning sounds of the word lobotomy, but the entire phrase "frontal lobotomy". The preceding phrase was further developed by Dean Martin, who said, "I would rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy." A similar example is "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than give Drood a frontal lobotomy!" said by the character Durdles in the musical comedy version of Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
  • Spoonerism was chosen as one of the character personalities of the seven dwarfs during the production of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, becoming the lead dwarf Doc.
  • Shel Silverstein's last children's book was entitled Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.
  • In the English translations of the Finnish Moomins books, the characters Thingumy and Bob often use these, sometimes referring to themselves as "Bingumy and Thob", and stating things are "worry vell" (very well).
  • In a situation where profanity is unsuitable, a spoonerism is sometimes used to tone down the intensity of the expression or just to bend the rules. For example, "Bass ackwards" in place of ass backwards or "Nucking Futs" instead of f*cking nuts.
  • In music, there have been several rock albums called Cunning Stunts. Some other music albums containing a spoonerism are Punk in Drublic and Liberal Animation by NOFX, as well as Night in the Ruts by Aerosmith and Suck Fony by Wheatus. Christian metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada has a song titled "Don't Dink and Drance" on their 2007 album, Plagues. The band name Buck Cherry is a spoonerism.
  • Kevin Gilbert released an album titled The Shaming of the True.
  • On his BBC television series, the British disc jockey and comedian Kenny Everett frequently portrayed a movie starlet of rather questionable morals, and over-familiarity with the casting couch called 'Cupid Stunt'. The original name for the character was Mary Hinge but the BBC vetoed it as they feared continuity announcers would incorrectly pronounce the spoonerism; rather bizarrely they allowed Cupid Stunt despite the same risk.[citation needed]
  • The British radio announcer McDonald Hobley famously introduced the politician Sir Stafford Cripps as Sir 'Stifford Crapps'.[citation needed]
  • British comedian and actor Ronnie Barker produced a sketch called "the funeral of Dr Spooner" in which the minister delivers the eulogy entirely in spoonerisms.[citation needed]
  • In a BBC Radio 4 episode of I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, Barry Cryer referred to a certain radio/TV personality as a "shining wit".[citation needed]
  • On the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on 6 December 2010, James Naughtie used a spoonerism and mispronounced Jeremy Hunt's name, mixing his title, culture secretary, with his surname.[citation needed]
  • In J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, the Weasley children receive sweaters from their mother for Christmas. George Weasley wonders why he and his brother, Fred, have their initials stitched into their sweaters, saying, "we're not stupid — we know we're called Gred and Forge".
  • Australian author Paul Jennings wrote a children's puzzle book in 1992 entitled "Spooner or Later", featuring illustrated pictures of spoonerisms of increasing complexity, requiring the reader to find their intended meaning.
  • Rap group OFWGKTA often go by both Wolf Gang (part of the acronym) and its spoonerism Golf Wang.[citation needed]
  • "Ring Kitchard" appears in the Monty Python episode "Blood, War, Devastation and Horror"
  • John Lennon was once quoted as saying in an interview that "time wounds all heels" instead of "time heals all wounds".[citation needed]
  • It is a common joke to say, "I don't have dain bramage!" after hitting your head.


The Capitol Steps, a political satire group, use spoonerisms in a segment of their show called "Lirty Dies and Scicious Vandals". Sarah Palin's name has been parodied as "Parah Salin" in an internet meme.[7]

In a deliberate spoonerism, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson once stated, "Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the apostle Peale appalling" (in reference to Norman Vincent Peale, who had opposed his candidacy).[8]

Twisted tales

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.[9]

Archie Campbell of the television show Hee Haw was also well known for telling twisted tales, the most famous of which being the story of "RinderCella". All of Campbell's spoonerism routines borrowed heavily from Colonel Stoopnagle.

Kniferism and forkerism

As complements to spoonerism, Douglas Hofstadter used the nonce terms kniferism and forkerism to refer to interchanging the nuclei and codas, respectively, of syllables (spoonerism then being reserved for exchange of the onsets). 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"[10] and that word regarding an impending presidential veto had come from "a high White Horse souse" (instead of "a high White House source");[11] and during a live broadcast in 1931, radio presenter Harry von Zell accidentally mispronouncing US President Herbert Hoover's name, "Hoobert Heever."[10][12] Usage of these new terms has been limited; many sources count any syllable exchange as a spoonerism, regardless of location.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Names make news". Time. 1928-10-29. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,928998,00.html?iid=chix-sphere. Retrieved 2008-09-20. 
  2. ^ a b "Spoonerism Message Lost in Translation". Toledo Blade. 1980-11-03. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19801103&id=i3cUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mAIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7156,6750556. 
  3. ^ Chambers Dictionary 1993 ISBN 0 550 10255 8
  4. ^ Bartlett, John (1992) [1855]. Justin Kaplan. ed. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (16th ed.). Little, Brown and Company. pp. 533. ISBN 0316082775. 
  5. ^ Quinion, Michael (2007-07-28). "Spoonerism". World Wide Words. http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-spo4.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-19. 
  6. ^ a b Lederer, Richard (1988). Get Thee to a Punnery. Charleston, South Carolina: Wyrick & Co.. pp. 137–148. 
  7. ^ "Parah Salin". http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.woosk.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/parah_sailing221.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.woosk.com/2008/10/parah-salin.html&h=541&w=800&sz=146&tbnid=KRWnZasa9srSoM:&tbnh=97&tbnw=143&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dparah%2Bsalin&zoom=1&q=parah+salin&hl=en&usg=__gs0qsFyPtI5WKnf9tqwpQAaJDqg=&sa=X&ei=TEnfTIj6CaeInAeAw8nHBQ&sqi=2&ved=0CBcQ9QEwAA. 
  8. ^ Hoekstra, Dave. "A former president's gag order; Ford's symposium examines humor in the Oval Office", Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 28, 1986, p. 22. Retrieved from Proquest Newspapers on Sept. 17, 2007.
  9. ^ "Stoopnagle's Tale is Twisted, by Ken James". http://stoneandscott.com/stoopnagle.asp. Retrieved 3 November 2008. 
  10. ^ a b Simonini, R. C. ((Dec., 1956)). "Phonemic and Analogic Lapses in Radio and Television Speech". American Speech (Duke University Press) 31 (4): 252–263. doi:10.2307/453412. JSTOR 453412. 
  11. ^ "Recent titles". English Today (Cambridge University Press) 9 (1): 56–60. Jan 1993. doi:10.1017/S0266078400006982. http://journals.cambridge.org/production/action/cjoGetFulltext?fulltextid=2250648. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  12. ^ "snopes.com: Harry von Zell and Hoobert Heever". http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/radio/vonzell.asp. Retrieved 2 Feb 2009. 
  13. ^ "spoonerism definition". Dictionary.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spoonerism. Retrieved 2 Feb 2009. 
  14. ^ "spoonerism: Definition from Answers.com". http://www.answers.com/topic/spoonerism. Retrieved 2 Feb 2009. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • spoonerism — (n.) 1900, but perhaps as early as 1885, involuntary transposition of sounds in two or more words (Cf. a well boiled icicle for a well oiled bicycle; scoop of boy trouts for troop of Boy Scouts ), in reference to the Rev. William A. Spooner (1844 …   Etymology dictionary

  • Spoonerism — The Revd W. A. Spooner (1844–1930), Dean and Warden of New College, Oxford, has given his name to this most endearing form of linguistic error involving the transposition of letters, although those commonly attributed to him are likely to be… …   Modern English usage

  • spoonerism — ► NOUN ▪ an error in speech in which the initial sounds or letters of two or more words are accidentally transposed, often to humorous effect, as in you have hissed the mystery lectures. ORIGIN named after the English scholar Revd W. A. Spooner… …   English terms dictionary

  • spoonerism — [spo͞o′nər iz΄əm] n. [after Rev. W. A. Spooner (1844 1930), of New College, Oxford, famous for such slips] an unintentional interchange of sounds, usually initial sounds, in two or more words (Ex.: “a well boiled icicle” for “a well oiled… …   English World dictionary

  • spoonerism — UK [ˈspuːnəˌrɪz(ə)m] / US [ˈspunərˌɪzəm] noun [countable] Word forms spoonerism : singular spoonerism plural spoonerisms a mistake in speaking in which someone pronounces some sounds or parts of words in the wrong order and makes a funny change… …   English dictionary

  • spoonerism — noun /ˈspuːnərɪzəm/ A play on words on a phrase in which the initial (usually consonantal) sounds of two or more of the main words are transposed. The spoonerism The queer old dean (instead of the dear old Queen ) is attributed to Rev. Spooner …   Wiktionary

  • spoonerism — [19] The term spoonerism commemorates the name of the Reverend William Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who reputedly was in the habit of producing utterances with the initial letters of words reversed, often to comic effect… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • Spoonerism —    The Reverend William A. Spooner (1844 1930), an Anglican clergyman, had a habit of transposing the initial sounds of words, forming a ludicrous combination. Whether his slips of tongue were accidental or simply the result of absentmindedness… …   Dictionary of eponyms

  • spoonerism — [[t]spu͟ːnərɪzəm[/t]] spoonerisms N COUNT A spoonerism is a mistake made by a speaker in which the first sounds of two words are changed over, often with a humorous result, for example when someone says wrong load instead of long road …   English dictionary

  • spoonerism — [19] The term spoonerism commemorates the name of the Reverend William Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who reputedly was in the habit of producing utterances with the initial letters of words reversed, often to comic effect… …   Word origins

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