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Spoonerism categories

Posted by R. Berg on November 13, 2002

In Reply to: Spoonerisms posted by Shae on November 13, 2002

: : : : Recent discussions prompt me to wonder what exactly a spoonerism is. Is it simply a transposition of letters or syllables, or do the transposed elements have to make sense? For example, "cattleships and bruisers" makes sense but "naily dewspaper" doesn't. Any advice?

: : : From

: : : Word of the Day for Monday April 15, 2002:

: : : spoonerism \SPOO-nuh-riz-uhm\, noun:
: : : The transposition of usually initial sounds in a pair of words.

: : : Some examples:
: : : We all know what it is to have a half-warmed fish ["half-formed wish"] inside us.
: : : The Lord is a shoving leopard ["loving shepherd"].
: : : It is kisstomary to cuss ["customary to kiss"] the bride.
: : : Is the bean dizzy ["dean busy"]?
: : : When the boys come back from France, we'll have the hags flung out ["flags hung out"]!
: : : Let me sew you to your sheet ["show you to your seat"].

: : : Spoonerism comes from the name of the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), a kindly but nervous Anglican clergyman and educationalist. All the above examples were committed by (or attributed to) him.

: : Spoonerisms don't have to make sense. "Paily daper" qualifies. It's just that the ones that do make sense, especially if it's a ludicrous sense, get quoted over and over.

: Maybe, then, we should have two categories: 'genuine' and 'contrived' spoonerisms. It seems to me that genuine spoonerisms, in the manner of the Rev's, are slips of the tongue that transpose word elements, thereby creating sentences or phrases that may or may not make sense, while those such as Bruce's rock band title are deliberately contrived.

Then we'd need a third category, "false genuine," for slips that apocryphal stories attribute to real speakers. Category placement for some spoonerisms would be uncertain. Another type of fuzzy case would occur when speakers made up spoonerisms as a humor technique and swore the phrases were spontaneous productions. Then there'd be people who made a mistake in speaking and tried to cover by saying it was deliberate humor. Simpler, I think, to call anything a spoonerism if it looks like one.

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