Weekend Word Wrap: Spoonerisms


One of the comments we got in our Weekend Word Wrap on malapropisms was from a reader named Leslie who semi-suggested we tackle the subject of spoonerisms, as well.

But before we get to Revered Spooner, let's first go back to antiquity, because that's where the trouble starts.

The Romans took the Greek hero Herakles, transposed the inner part of the word, and started calling him Hercules (sort of the way many of us say nucular instead of nuclear), thus creating what's known as a metathesis. Now I don't mind a metathesis like nucular, but so much as mumble the word excetera for etcetera and I'm liable to start searching around the room for a large mallet. (I've often wondered if they abbreviate it ect. instead of etc.)

A spoonerism is also a kind of metathesis, only instead of switching parts of the word, the beginnings of two separate words get flop flipped. The trick here, of course, is that the resulting new order must make sense. It's not enough just to thype tusly, because that's plain silly, right?
The word "spoonerism" was coined by a British albino educationalist and Anglican clergyman named William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), whose mind worked faster than his tongue. As a result, he'd wind up raising a toast to Her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria, by proclaiming, "Three cheers for our queer old dean!"

Many people, like Dr. Spooner, have a tendency to switch parts of words around when they become nervous or agitated. I recall being on a first date once, palms sweating, anxious to say all the right things, and muttering, "Yeah, but who for can get that?" Not a pure spoonerism, but close. Here are some of my favorites -- and as usual, we'd love to hear yours.

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Cop porn

Sword witch

You've tasted two worms

Lack of pies