A Well-Boiled Icicle.
Spoonerisms and the man who made them.
|Best remembered for transposing letters...|
The Reverend William Archibald Spooner is best remembered, not for being head of an Oxford college (1903-1924) but for his supposed habit of transposing letters of words producing what have come to be called 'SPOONERISMS'. Though he did occasionally fall into metaphasis (the technical term for the transposition of sounds), it's doubtful that Spooner created all the spoonerisms credited to him. He also resented being associated with this quirk.
Spooner admitted to giving out a hymn in chapel as 'Kinquering Kongs' but denied all the rest. Witnesses claimed to have heard him say 'In a dark, glassly' and 'The weight of rages will press harder and harder upon the employer.' Others, including Julian Huxley and Arnold Toynbee, knew him to confuse ideas if not words. Upsetting a salt-cellar, Spooner poured wine, drop by drop, on the spilled salt.
|Our queer Dean...|
In the 1890's, undergraduates at Oxford took up the idea of spoonerisms when Spooner was a Fellow of New College. Many believe they created most of the spoonerisms that have since been attributed to him:
I have in my bosom a half-warmed fish.
A toast which needs no commendation from me- our queer Dean.
A well boiled icicle.
A blushing crow
The Lord is a shoving leopard.
Please sew me to another sheet. Someone is occupewing my pie.
|Metaphasis predates Spooner...|
Though letter and sound transposition now bears Warden Spooner's name, the habit is found in Henry Peacham's Complete Gentleman (1622) and in Cuthbert Bede's Further Adventures of Mr Verdant Green (1854). In Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Grumio says, 'The oats have eaten the horses.'
|Now a game of wordplay...|
Though accidental to begin with, letter/sound transposition developed into a deliberate form of wordplay.
Oscar Wilde: Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
Adlai Stevenson's response to Norman Peale, while campaigning in Minnesota: I found St. Paul appealing and Peale appalling.
As a game, spoonerisms take two main forms.
- Spoonerised phrases which yield new phrases.
- Spoonergrams. Poems with blanks that require spoonerisms.
See you next time!
If you enjoyed this article then you'll want to read "The Oxford Guide To Word Games" by Tony Augarde.
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