section recommended by A. K. Norris


by Jules Loh

Rear deeders, how your beds.

Let us salute the eponymous master of the verbal somersault, the Reverend William Archibald Spooner. He left us all a legacy of laughter

He also gave the dictionary a new entry: spoonerism. The very word brings a smile. It refers, of course, to the linguistic flip-flops that turn "a well-oiled bicycle" into "a well-boiled icicle. And other ludicrous ways speakers of English get their mix all talked up. English is fertile soil for spoonerism, as author and lecturer Richard Lederer points out, because the language has more than three times as many words as any other - 616,500 and growing at 450 a year. Consequently, there's a greater chance that any accidental transposition of letters or syllables will produce rhyming substitutes that still make sense - sort of.

"Spooner," says Lederer, "gave us tinglish errors and English terrors at the same time."

Born in 1844 in London, Spooner became an Anglican priest and a scholar. During a 60-year association with Oxford University, he lectured in history, philosophy and divinity. From 1876 to 1889 he served as a dean, and from 1913 to 1924 as warden, or president.

Spooner was an albino, small, with a pink face, poor eyesight and a head too large for his body. His reputation was that of a genial, kindly, hospitable man.

He seems also to have been somewhat of an absent-minded professor. He once invited a faculty member to tea "to welcome our new archeology Fellow."

"But, sir," the man replied, "I am our new archeology Fellow."

"Never mind," Spooner said. "Come all the same."

After a Sunday service he turned back to the pulpit and informed his student audience: "In the sermon I have just preached, whenever I said Aristotle I meant St. Paul." But Spooner was no featherbrain. In fact his mind was so nimble his tongue couldn't keep pace. The Greeks had a word for this type of impediment long before Spooner was born: metathesis. It means the act of transposing or switching things around. Is not spoonerism a more playful word? It means the same thing.

Reverend Spooner's tendency to get words and sounds crossed up could happen at any time, but especially when he was agitated. He reprimanded one student for "fighting a liar in the quadrangle" and another who "hissed my mystery lecture." To the latter he added in disgust, "You have tasted two worms."

Patriotic fervor excited Spooner as well. He raised this toast to Her Highness Victoria: "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" During World War 1 he reassured his students, "When our boys come home from France, we will have the hags flung out." And he lionized Britain's farmers as "noble tons of soil." His goofs at chapel were legendary. "Our Lord is a shoving leopard," he once intoned. He quoted I Corinthians 13:12 as "For now we see through a dark glassly . . ." Officiating at a wedding, he prompted a hesitant bridegroom, "Son, now it is kisstomary to cus the bride." And to a stranger seated in the wrong place: "I believe you're occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?"

Although he might simply have been concealing a dry wit, all of the professor's slips seem to have been accidental. So, says Lederer, if you come across one with too much meaning, it's probably not authentic. For instance, "a scoop of boy trouts" for " a troop of boy scouts" seem contrived and was probably invented by one of his students.

"A sign in a tavern notes 'Our customers enter optimistically and leave misty optically.' That's beautiful Lederer says, "but it was obviously contrived. Here's another often attributed to Dorothy Parker: 'I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.' That's genius.

"Did Spooner really say, 'Which of us has not felt in his heart a half-warmed fish?' He certainly could have - he was trying to say half-formed wish."

Lederer offers these other (probably) authentic spoonerisms:

At a naval review Spooner marvelled at "this vast display of cattleships and bruisers."

To a school official's secretary: "Is the bean dizzy?"

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

Two years before his death in 1930 at age 84, Spooner told an interviewer he could recall only one of his trademark fluffs. It was the one he made announcing the hymn "kinkering Congs Their Titles Tale," meaning to say, "Conquering Kings." A lulu.

He obviously could have made many others. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "spoonerism" began appearing in colloquial use as early as 1885, when Spooner was 41. Once when a group of students clamored outside his window for him to make a speech, he called down: "You don't want to hear a speech: you just want me to say one of those... things."

So if you make a verbal slip, rest easy. Many have. Radio announcer Harry Von Zell once introduced U.S. President Herbert Hoover as Hoobert Heever. And Lowell Thomas presented British minister Sir Stafford Cripps as Sir Stifford Craps.

Thanks to Reverend Spooner's style-setting somersaults, our own little tips of the slung will not be looked upon as the embarrassing babblings of a nitwit, but rather the whimsical lapses of a nimble-brain.

So let us applaud that gentle man who lent his tame to the nerm. May sod rest his goal.


  • The weather report says it will either drain or rizzle, with possible shattered scowers.

  • When he lost the game, he received a blushing crow.

  • There's a saying, 'It never pains, but it roars.'

  • I don't like to eat parrots and keys.

  • a half-wormed fish
    (a half-formed wish)

  • our queer old deen
    (our dear old queen)

  • tons of soil
    (sons of toil)

  • tease my ears
    (ease my tears)

  • belly jeans
    (jelly beans)

  • flow with the go
    (go with flow)

  • tire fuck
    (fire truck)

  • whining shit
    (shining wit)

  • a dot in the shark
    (a shot in the dark)

  • bill in the flank
    (fill in the blank)

  • fart smeller

  • bumming herd
    (humming bird)

  • sick demon
    (dick semen)

  • salt and pecker shapers
    (salt and pepper shakers)

  • shaking a tower
    (taking a shower)
    (contributed by Charles J. Brown Jr.)

  • shaking a tit
    (taking a shit)
    (contributed by Charles J. Brown Jr.)

  • Snoveling show
    (shoveling snow)
    (contributed by John Gillis)

  • cunning stunt
    (stunning cunt)
    (contributed by MISSING Crew)

  • bump on the head
    (hump on the bed)
    (contributed by MISSING Crew)

  • ginger nuts
    (ninja guts)
    (contributed by MISSING Crew)

  • pot noodle
    (not poodle)
    (contributed by MISSING Crew)

    by Andrew Bryan

    The following is a true spoonerism that I said...

    I had just started working in my first job out of school and was eager to please my senior workers, my immediate boss (Elizabeth) came to see me because customers had been complaining to her about some orders that hadn't been despatched. The truth was that I had been really busy and I didn't really want to tell her that I wasn't coping. She said a few staff people had also complained about internal mail being delivered and so on..

    In anger i replied, "This is bullshit I'm working really hard down here while you people upstairs are sitting around talking and organising meetings just to organise larger meetings... I'm sick to death of copping flack."

    She looked at me, her frown turned into a big smile and she said "Yes i think we may have been loading too much work on to you, I'll look into ways to improve the situation."

    When she walked upstairs she appeared to be holding back laughter. I was becoming really confused.

    When I delivered the afternoon mail around the building all I got was smiles, I knew something was going on but I couldn't work it out.

    I went to her office and she told me to close the door. She then asked me "Do you know what a spoonerism is?" I said no, so she explained that it's when you get words mixed up. I said "SO?"

    And she said, "Well this morning downstairs you told me you were sick of Flapping Cock.."

    I felt like an idiot... but from then on she always had a smile for me and looked after me when office politics were in season.

    by Corky

    While listening to the radio as a young man (30 years ago), I remember hearing a novice announcer who was reading through Help Wanted ads mix up "buckers and fallers", which a local (Vernon, British Columbia, Canada) logging company was seeking to hire.

    by Bob Fowler

    I understand that a radio reporter during WWII reported on "the battle of the Bulgian Belch" (Belgian bulge)

    by Clark Pearson

    While presenting a proposal for new web site functionality to a banks' decision makers I said "up-cunt frosts" instead of "up-front costs." I forged ahead with my presentation with nary a comment. I died laughing while telling my friends later.

    by R. Frank Tulak

    My wife I call bunny hunch
    though her response is sometimes as slow as a turd of hurtles;
    most of the time I am pickled tink to be harried tomer.
    Except when I have to go to fart and sinal with her for the purpose of cinding a fart and ushing it through the piles.
    Being married is a londerful wife.

    by Freeza Frost

    there's a blooper book i read that mentioneda weather report about a "cold mare ass dropping its load".

    by John Phethean

    I used to work in a four star hotel, and was responsible for arrival drinks at the posh weddings held there. One day, I was thinking in spoonerisms from the moment I woke up, and of course it had to be the day we served Buck's Fizz (orange juice and champagne). The profanity was inevitable, and I was dreading it, but the old man who got it seemed amused!

    by Michael C. Berrier

    I was once served crunch and pookies at a wedding reception.

    by Colin Kent

    A renowned but possibly apocryphal spoonerism story relates to the very "proper" radio announcer, who on a mid day Australian news bulletin ( ABC ), advised his listeners as follows:

    "Mrs Sheila Jones, a resident of Newcastle, New South Wales, is reported to be in a stable condition in the Newcastle hospital, after being admitted and treated after she was bitten on the funnel by a finger web spider".

    ( Australian listeners and readers of your collections, will of course be aware that the genuinely dangerous spider referred to in this report, is of course the "Funnel Web" ).

    by Doug Jones

    The account of the ABC radio announcer and the finger web spider is not apocryphal. The announcer was a respected newsreader named John Chance, and I heard the incident on a bloopers tape played on ABC radio some 20 years ago.

    by Sally Hartley

    My friend's late mother was a great one for Spoonerisms! I remember hearing her say things like "Oh, I'm watching the History Channel... they're talking about the guy who invented autoratic mifles.", or "Can we stop for a yozen frogurt?", or "Would you trune the pees back for me?" But the all-time favorite was when she and her daughter were having breakfast at a Denny's, and discussing Xmas gifts for the grandkids. She was trying to come up with the name of a children's book, but couldn't quite remember, when she suddenly brightened up, and blurted out (loudly), "Now I remember! It's the grant and the asshopper!"

    by dlo

    My favorite accidental spoonerism was broadcast over the loudspeaker in a J.C. Penny store during the holidays. A voice obviously belonging to a college student hired for the holiday season would periodically break into the Musak to announce the sales throughout the store. As my friend and I picked up our last minute Christmas gifts, we were quite astonished to hear "Attention shitty poppers... uh, pity stoppers... uh... <click>. I don't recall any more announcements that evening.

    by Brett & Alec

    My son just accused my wife of sucking the fun out of his life. (Well, that's what he MEANT to say!!)

    by Brian Stephens, Penarth, Glam

    Two fairly old ones.

    1) The war veteran who was variously described as a "Battle scared veteran", and then this was corrected to "Bottle scarred veteran."

    2) In a stage play there was an off stage bang. A character ran in and shouted "I heard a shostle pit... a postal shit... a shistol pot?"

    3) On the BBC radio recently a female presenter on a programme about rail disasters was heard to say "And now we have Mr ***** who is a Transpert Export, sorry Transport Expert." This is true, I heard it.

    4) Around the Horne radio show had a lovely one. "And we've just heard from a lady who would like to meet Nicholas Parsons. Also a letter from a parson who'd like to meet knickerless ladies."

    by Andrew

    Given all the news re the birth of angelina jolie & brad pit's baby, they obviously didnt have spoonersims in mind when they called the baby Shiloh Pitt.

    by Margaret Hinder

    Spoonerisms are never so funny as when they turn into something (almost) apt.

    One of my all time favourites was an aftershave that Avon used to sell (maybe they still do, I've no idea). Its name was Master Plan. I guess plaster man is what you do with it ...

    by Phil Reynolds

    Not so long ago at work, someone asked me what I was doing at the weekend. I said "Not much, but I do have some repairs to do to my generous purple computer." - to which I was asked what colour my others were. Only then did I realise I had forkerised "general purpose".

    by Larry Peck

    How about the standing ovation that the speaker received? The announcer intoned, "The cloud is crapping appreciatively."

    If you know of any more spoonerisms, please email them to me.