Thursday, June 15, 2017


Most of those who read this piece would know what a spoonerism is. This eponym is commonly understood to refer to a switch of the first syllables of two adjacent words, often resulting in a hilarious expression. Like 'a blushing crow' instead of 'a crushing blow'.
Spoonerisms are named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this mistake. (My scrapbook says it is also called 'marrowsky' after a Polish gentleman whose tongue used to get twisted, resulting in a similar speech impediment.)
Spooner himself admits to only one such lapse: 'The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take' (in reference to a hymn). This would imply that the other scores of spoonerisms that we hear (our queer dean, hissed the mystery lectures, tasted the whole worm, leave town drain, etc) are all fabricated. That, however, seems very unlikely, for, just one slip of the tongue (or tip of the slung, if you will) cannot result in the christening of a genre of lapses.
One of the more popular spoonerisms believed to have genuinely been mouthed by the ordained minister is 'The Lord is a shoving leopard' instead of 'The Lord is a loving shepherd'. As a practitioner of religion and a preacher, this is most certainly his.
That said, just one substantiated spoonerism has been listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: 'The weight of rages (instead of 'rate of wages') will press hard upon the employer.'
Human ingenuity, however did one better than the Oxford don could, and soon enough, colleagues and students 'constructed' spoonerisms as a pastime. Thus contrived expressions were passed off as spoonerisms, apocryphal though they are. 'Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?' for instance.
Thus, today a spoonerism signifies an error in speech or a deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels or morphemes of two words in a phrase are swapped.
But then ingenuity hath no boundaries. If spoonerisms strike roots, can forkerisms and kniferisms be far behind? It was Donald Hoefstadter, the patron-saint of 'perverted' thinkers, who introduced these complements to spoonerisms, to complete the cutlery, as it were. In kniferisms, the vowels or the final consonants of two syllables would be interchanged, giving them a new meaning as in 'the Duck and Doochess of Windsor'; or, more often, two meaningless words, as in 'hypodeemic nerdle'. I have read somewhere that Sir Stafford Cripps was once referred to by a BBC newscaster as Sir Stifford Crapps. Some other instances are 'Self-constricted ruddles', 'terrific striggles' and 'deloberately rib me'.
Usage of these new terms has been limited, perhaps because it is quite difficult even to 'construct' good forkerisms and kniferisms.

Post script: There is this friend of mine who wrote to me that he loves my posts. I hope he is not being spooneric when the smart alec that he is exlaimed what a shining wit I was in his opinion. Shining wit ot whining ....?

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