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spoonerisms folklore | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Mardon Me, Padam, But Do You Know Any Spoonerisms?

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Fun with Spoonerisms

John I. White
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Ever meant to say one thing, but something else pops out of your mouth? Spoonerisms are sort of similar. Here’s curious story of how the word spoonerism was invented—and some fun with words.

Spoonerisms are words or phrases in which letters or syllables get swapped—so you end up with a meaning entirely different from the one intended. For example: “It is kistomary to cuss the bride.”

Believe it or not, it started with a mere slip of the tongue by dignified clergyman. The Reverend William Archibald Spooner, born in 1844, was a highly-regarded scholar and warden of New College at England’s great Oxford University.

One day in a chapel, when announcing the name of a hymn, Spooner intended to say “Conquering Kings Their Titles Take.”

But what came out was “Kinquering Kongs Their Titles Take.”

Although the members of the congregation probably maintained their composure, no doubt with considerable difficulty, from then on Spooner was a marked man.

  • Oxford students quickly proceeded to manufacture other topsy-turvy expressions and hang them on the warden of New College.
  • There is evidence, too, that Spooner went along with the joke and contributed some sterling examples of his own making. By about 1900, the word spoonerism had entered the language.

It was said that Spooner was a kind, absent-minded fellow with a keen intellect. He was also an albino with poor eyesight. For whatever reason, it seems that his quick mind couldn’t keep up with this mouth. 

When Spooner died in 1930 at the age of eighty-six, The New York Times allotted his obituary nearly a full column crammed with choice examples of the literary curiosity bearing his name.

  • At the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, said the Times, he was credited with calling for a toast to “our queer old dean” instead of to “our dear old Queen.”
  • On a visit to the British fleet at Portsmouth, he was quoted as asking to go out and see the “cattleships and bruisers.”
  • A student once noted that he had been rebuked by the warden for “fighting liars in the quadrangle,” and an entire class was scolded severly for “hissing my mystery lectures.”

Often-Quoted Spoonerisms

Here are more silly spoonerisms:

  • “A blushing crow” instead of “crushing blow.”
  • “Those girls are sin twisters.”
  • “I was hocked and shorrified.”
  • “We each had tee martoonies.”
  • “She joins this club over my bed doddy.”
  • “He rode off on his well-boiled icicle” instead of “well-oiled bicycle.”
  • “You have tasted a whole worm.” (to a lazy student)
  • “You will leave by the town drain.”
  • “The Lord is a shoving leopard” (Loving shepherd)
  • Upon dropping his hat: “Will nobody pat my hiccup?”
  • “Go and shake a tower” (Go and take a shower).
  • Paying a visit to a college official: “Is the bean dizzy?”
  • Addressing farmers as “ye noble tons of soil”.

And, the classic: “Mardon me padom, you are occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?”

Enjoy more quirky Almanac articles from the archives!
 

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