• spoonerism •
Pronunciation: spu-nêr-iz-êm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The transposition of the initial letters (or sounds) of neighboring words with humorous results as, "Three cheers for our queer old dean" instead of, "Three cheers for our dear old Queen."
Notes: Today's Good Word is the name of a speech error we hear every day. Rather than discuss this word itself, we will focus on what it refers to: spoonerisms themselves. You may use either spoonerist or spooneristic for the adjective accompanying today's word and keep in mind that when someone utters a spoonerism, they spoonerize.
In Play: According to his facetious students, Dr. Spooner once dropped his hat, then asked "Will nobody pat my hiccup?" He told an usher one Sunday to "sew the ladies to their sheets." But Spooner did not corner the market on spoonerisms: during a salute to Will Smith at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York last January, emcee Joan Baker introduced actor Bill Pullman as "Bull Pillman". With a smile, Pullman remarked that he hadn't been called "bull" since his school days.
Word History: Spoonerism is yet another eponym, this one a gift of the Reverend W. A. Spooner (1844-1930), who lectured and served as dean and warden at Oxford University for 60 years. That is, the proper noun Spooner became a common one, spooner, to which the suffix -ism was attached. For a more expansive discussion of spoonerisms and the origin of their name, enjoy our section devoted to them. (Chuck Lee, who suggested today's word, made a game of it with his friends in high school, trying to see who could create the funniest. His favorite was "the extire finguisher".)