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Spoonerisms


William Archibald Spooner was born in London on 22 July 1844. Eighteen years later he won a scholarship to New College, Oxford where he completed degrees in classics and humanities (divinity). He continued at New College for the remainder of his life, lecturing there from 1869 onward, serving as dean 1876-1889, and finally becoming its warden (president) after completing his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1903.

(Un)fortunately, Spooner's scholarly work has not passed the test of time. Rather, he is remembered for a peculiar speech error he was wont to make: the transposition of the initial letters (sounds) of adjoining words, often with humorous results. It is to this type of speech error (slip of the tongue) that Dr. Spooner lent his name: the spoonerism. Here is a selection, beginning with those attributed to Dr. Spooner himself. (If you know more, please share them with us through our contact page.)

Dr. Spooner's Originals
  • Once Dr. Spooner raised a toast to Her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria, and proclaimed: "Three cheers for our queer old dean!"
  • During World War I he reassured his students, "When our boys come home from France, we will have the hags flung out."
  • On another occasion, he lionized Britain's farmers as "ye noble tons of soil."
  • We learn of these speech errors from the notes of his students, which they generously shared by publishing them. They probably made most if not all of them up themselves. This one was probably a compilation of several others. Dr. Spooner is supposed to have chastised one of his students thus: "You have hissed all the mystery lectures, I saw you fight that liar behind the gymnasium, and, in short, you have tasted the whole worm."
  • He is reported to have made a double screw-up upon once dropping his hat then asking: "Will nobody pat my hiccup?"
  • He reportedly ended a wedding he was performing with: "It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride."
  • Paying a visit to the college dean (before he took over that position himself), he supposedly queried: "Is the bean dizzy?"
  • He replaced "crushing blow" with "blushing crow" in one lecture.
  • He once referred to a well-oiled bicycle as "a well-boiled icicle."
  • "I have in my bosom a half-warmed fish" (for half-formed wish) is not beyond the pale of actual possibility.
  • Once upon entering church, Spooner exclaimed, "Good grief! Someone is occu-pewing my pie!" (Thank you, Jinny Collins, for reminding us of this one.)
On the Air

The worst place for a spoonerism, of course, is on a live radio broadcast. Yet, most bloopers are just that. Here are a few to start off with.

  • Harry Von Zell, the amiable announcer on radio and TV shows in the 40s and 50s such as the Bing Crosby Show, the Burns and Allen Show, the Eddie Cantor show, earned a place in the Blooper Hall of Fame when he introduced the president on radio as, "the President of the United States Hoobert Heever." (Thank you, Ed Dennis, for reminding us.)
  • On the air an announcer identified as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as the "Canadian Broadcorping Castration."
  • Another radio announcer made one that seems to have stuck: "one swell foop".
  • A British radio announcer, talking about a royal visit, informed his listeners that the visitor would be greeted with a "twenty one son galoot".
But Anyone Can Do It . . .
  • David Robertson has two hobbies: bird watching and word botching.
  • David says: "I don't know if I need a bottle in front of me or a frontal lobotomy." Apparently, he thinks he needs one or the other.
  • Colin Hadfield's mother, according to her, now lives in a new flock of bats.
  • Oscar Wilde, a master of aphorisms, was often quoted as saying, "Work is the curse of the drinking class," a quote often misattributed to the Right Reverend Dr. Spooner.
  • A friend of Elliott Stoddard had just eaten dinner in the school cafeteria, and he didn't look very happy. Another of my friends said, "John, what's wrong?" Knowing exactly what he was saying, he said, "It's the bound grief I had for dinner!"
  • Dana Ruger's friend was working as a grounds keeper when she asked the guys on the riding lawn mowers to watch out for the runny Babbits.
  • Someone within earshot of Thomas Bailey let this one slip: "Did you bake this kid's tyke?"
  • Chuck Lee and his friends made a game of it in high school, trying to see who could create the funniest. His favorite was "the ex-tire finguisher".

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