Spoonerisms are those unfortunate slips of the tongue we all sometimes make. Most of the time, spoonerisms are purely accidental—although many comedians have used spoonerisms to great effect over the years as they are often highly amusing. But where does the term “spoonerism” come from and what are some popular spoonerism examples?
The word spoonerism refers to the Rev. Dr. William Archibald Spooner, warden of New College, Oxford, and it is thanks to his many gaffes over the course of his lifetime that the term “spoonerism” found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary. Spoonerism occurs when the sounds of two words are transposed, so the phrase “a pack of lies” becomes “a lack of pies”, which clearly has a completely different meaning!
Spoonerisms abound. Listen carefully to the radio or TV over any length of time and you are sure to hear more than one unintentional spoonerism, some of them extremely funny, and some highly embarrassing.
Rev. Dr. William Archibald Spooner was famous for his inadvertent slips of the tongue, although he later claimed to be only responsible for one infamous example: he announced a hymn as “The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take. Another example of Spooner’s unfortunate slips of the tongue is said to be “Excuse me, but I think you are occupewing my pie,” when faced with a stranger occupying his personal pew in the chapel at Oxford. He is also said to have addressed a group of farmers with the immortal line: “I have never before addressed so many tons of soil.”
There are many more popular spoonerism examples attributed to Rev. Spooner, although it is likely that most of them were in fact made up by colleagues and acquaintances for their own amusement.
“Give three cheers for our queer old dean.
It is kistomary to cuss the bride
Have you, my brethren, ever nurtured in your bosom a half-warmed fish?
A well-boiled icicle
You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted a whole worm.”
Popular examples of spoonerism from modern times
The Monty Python gang used spoonerism in one of their sketches:
“Presenter: And what is your next project?
Hamrag Yatlerot: Ring Kichard the Thrid.
Presenter: I’m sorry?
Hamrag Yatlerot: A shroe! A shroe! My dingkome for a shroe!
Presenter: Ah, King Richard, yes. But surely that’s not an anagram, that’s a spoonerism.”
The late British comedian, Kenny Everett, used spoonerism in his sketches featuring a starlet of questionable morals, who went by the name of “Cupid Stunt”, although her original name was apparently intended to be “Mary Hinge” until the BBC vetoed it.
Spoonerism is often used to hide profanities or tone down phrases that would otherwise be considered offensive to many. For example, a person might say “bass ackwards” or “nucking futs”. You might also say that “the acrobats displayed some cunning stunts” (which has also been the name of several albums over the years), or “Sir, you certainly are a shining wit”.
More popular spoonerism examples
Bad salad (Sad ballad)
Mean as custard (Keen as mustard)
Plaster man (Master plan)
Birthington’s washday (Washington’s Birthday)
Trail snacks (Snail tracks)
Bottle in front of me (Frontal Lobotomy)
Rental Deceptionist (Dental Receptionist)
Chewing the doors (Doing the chores)