Friday, December 14, 2012

Spoonerisms And The Weight Of Rages

Whether you've heard the term spoonerism or not, you've almost undoubtedly uttered one or two in your lifetime. A spoonerism is when corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched within a phrase. Imagine you've come home drenched in sweat from the gym, and your roommate tells you to "go and shake a tower". Their mix-up of the initial sounds in take and shower has created a spoonerism, whether it was due to some clever wordplay or a simple speech error.

You could always bake a tath instead. 

If this is the first you've ever heard of spoonerisms, you're probably wondering where the term came from. It does not, in fact, have anything whatsoever to do with spoons. Its history is far more interesting than that! It turns out that from 1844 until 1930, there lived a man named William Archibald Spooner.

This is a caricature of Spooner from 1898.

Spooner was an intelligent man who almost spent his entire life at the University of Oxford, first as a student, then as a lecturer, tutor and dean. He was a well-respected member of the academic community that was known for being a kind man. However, he had a tendency to make speech errors... and after a few particularly amusing ones, his colleagues decided began to call his linguistic gaffes "Spoonerisms".

We're sure he accomplished far more interesting and important things in his life, but it seems that his legacy lies in a term named after him because of his tendency to muddle words. There are many phrases attributed to him, but there is only one substantiated Spoonerism according to The Oxford Dictonary of Quotations: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer". While it reportedly annoyed him at first (and rightly so... we wouldn't want everyone hanging about waiting for us to make an amusing error!), it appears that he did eventually come to terms with his linguistic legacy and found the humor in his slip-ups. 

There are many other quotations attributed to Spooner, but most of them were likely uttered by his students or colleagues. Nevertheless, here are some of our favorite "original" spoonerisms...

"He was killed by a blushing crow." 

"The Lord is a shoving leopard."

Watching over his flock with a keen eye...

"It is kisstomary to cuss the bride."

"Let us glaze our arses to the queer old Dean." (Two spoonerisms in one sentence! You might need to say it aloud in your best approximation of an English accent in order to decipher them.)

Here's a hint as to what he meant to say.

While the original spoonerisms were speech errors, they've also become a popular type of wordplay. Some examples of intentional spoonerisms for humorous effect include "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy", and a children's book by Shel Silverstein entitled Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.

They're also used as a linguistic loophole to avoid being censored for profanity. This can be found on everything from sweatshirts proclaiming "Muck Fichigan!" to music albums such as Suck Fony by Wheatus and Farstucker by Lords of Acid. We're sure you could think up plenty more of this kind of spoonerism on your own.

An American professor has suggested that the term spoonerism should only be used to describe sound-swapping between the onsets of syllables. When the nuclei or codas swap, he has suggested the use of the terms kniferism and forkerism. We think we'll just stick with spoonerism. After all, the term's name has nothing to do with eating utensils.

Remember, spoonerisms are named after
William Archibald Spooner, not spoons!

If you have any humorous spoonerisms of your own, please share them with us in the comments! We'd hike to lear them!