Thursday, July 22, 2010

William Spooner and Spoonerisms


Willam A. Spooner

Do you know what a "spoonerism" is? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a spoonerism is "a transposition of usually initial sounds of two or more words." An exapmple is "toin coss" instead of "coin toss."

The term "Spoonerism" derives its name from William Archibald Spooner, a classical scholar and Anglican priest who was prone to such errors in speech. Spooner was born in London, England on this day in 1844, the son of a Staffordshire county court judge. At the age of 18, he won a scholarship to New College, Oxford and maintained a 60-year association with the institution. He became a fellow of New College in 1867, lecturer in 1868, a tutor in 1869, dean 1876-1889 and Warden of New College from 1903. That same year he obtained his Doctor of Divinity degree.

During his many years at New College, the Reverend Spooner gained a reputation for making verbal slips of the tongue. His students even began devising transpositional puns, and attributing them to him.

I was intrigued to learn that Dr. Spooner was an albino. As a result. he suffered from defective eyesight. Spooner had a pinkish face, very pale blue eyes and white hair tinged with yellow. His physique was poor, his head was too large for his body and he stammered. In an article entitled Will Someone Please Hiccup My Pat, Wiliam Spooner Donald (Spooner’s nephew), says that “nature compensated the weakling by blessing him with a brilliant intellect.” He describes his uncle as a "caricaturist’s dream with freakish looks, nervous manner and peculiar mental kink that caused him – in his own words – ‘to make occasional felicities in verbal diction.’”

William A. Spooner overcame his drawbacks, lived a successful life and was very popular with his students. This master of malapropism died in 1930 at the age of 86.

Hare are some examples of Spoonerism that have been attributed to William Spooner.

"Blushing crow" for "crushing blow"

•A well-boiled icicle" for "well-oiled bicycle."

"I have in my bosom a half-warmed fish" (for half-formed wish)

Spooner is said to have raised this toast to Queen Victoria: "Three cheers for our queer old dean!"

Upon dropping his hat: "Will nobody pat my hiccup?"

Officiating at a wedding, Rev. Spooner prompted a hesitant bridegroom, "Son, it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride."

Paying a visit to a college official: "Is the bean dizzy?"

Addressing farmers as "ye noble tons of soil"

Visiting a friend's country cottage: "You have a nosey little crook here."

He castigated one student for "fighting a liar in the quadrangle"

Another severe reprimand to a misbehaving student:- "You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted two worms. Pack up your rags and bugs, and leave immediately by the town drain!"

"Mardon me padom, you are occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?"

Some of these are apocryphal, likely devised by Spooner's students. They sure are fun, though.

- Joanne