A spoonerism is an error in speech or deliberate play on words
Word play
Word play or wordplay is a literary technique in which the words that are used become the main subject of the work, primarily for the purpose of intended effect or amusement...

 in which corresponding consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s, vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

s, or morphemes are switched (see metathesis
Metathesis (linguistics)
Metathesis is the re-arranging of sounds or syllables in a word, or of words in a sentence. Most commonly it refers to the switching of two or more contiguous sounds, known as adjacent metathesis or local metathesis:...

). It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner
William Archibald Spooner
William Archibald Spooner was a famous Oxford don whose name is given to the linguistic phenomenon of spoonerism.-Biography:...

 (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford
New College, Oxford
New College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.- Overview :The College's official name, College of St Mary, is the same as that of the older Oriel College; hence, it has been referred to as the "New College of St Mary", and is now almost always...

, who was notoriously prone to this tendency. A spoonerism is also known as a marrowsky, after a Polish count who suffered from the same impediment. While spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue resulting from unintentionally getting one's words in a tangle, they can also be used intentionally as a play on words. In some cultures, spoonerisms are used as a rhyme form used in poetry, such as German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 Schüttelreime. In French, "contrepèterie" is a national sport, the subject of entire books and a weekly section of Le Canard enchaîné
Le Canard enchaîné
Le Canard enchaîné is a satirical newspaper published weekly in France. Founded in 1915, it features investigative journalism and leaks from sources inside the French government, the French political world and the French business world, as well as many jokes and humorous cartoons.-Early...

. Spoonerisms are commonly used intentionally in humour.


Most of the quotations attributed to Spooner are apocryphal; The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, first published by the Oxford University Press in 1941, is an 1100-page book listing short quotations that are common in English language and culture....

(3rd edition, 1979) lists only one substantiated spoonerism: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer" (instead of "rate of wages"). Spooner claimed that "The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take" (in reference to a hymn) was his sole spoonerism. Most spoonerisms were probably never uttered by William Spooner himself, but rather made up by colleagues and students as a pastime. Richard Lederer
Richard Lederer
Richard Lederer is an American author, speaker, and teacher best known for his books on word play and the English language and his use of oxymorons...

, calling "Kinkering Kongs their Titles Take" (with an alternate spelling) one of the "few" authenticated Spoonerisms, dates it to 1879, and gives nine examples "attributed to Spooner, most of them spuriously". They are:

  • "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" (dear old queen, referring to Queen Victoria)
  • "Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?" (customary to kiss)
  • "The Lord is a shoving leopard." (a loving shepherd)
  • "A blushing crow." (crushing blow)
  • "A well-boiled icicle" (well-oiled bicycle)
  • "You were fighting a liar in the quadrangle." (lighting a fire)
  • "Is the bean dizzy?" (dean busy)
  • "Someone is occupewing my pie. Please sew me to another sheet." (occupying my pew...show me to another seat)
  • "You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted a whole worm. Please leave Oxford on the next town drain." (missed...history, wasted...term, down train)

A newspaper column attributes this additional example to Spooner: "A nosey little cook." (cozy little nook).

Popular use

In modern terms, "spoonerism" generally refers to any changing of sounds in this manner.
  • One example is "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy
    Lobotomy "; τομή – tomē: "cut/slice") is a neurosurgical procedure, a form of psychosurgery, also known as a leukotomy or leucotomy . It consists of cutting the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain...

    " (variously attributed to W. C. Fields
    W. C. Fields
    William Claude Dukenfield , better known as W. C. Fields, was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer...

    , Tom Waits
    Tom Waits
    Thomas Alan "Tom" Waits is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor. Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car."...

    , and most commonly Dorothy Parker
    Dorothy Parker
    Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th century urban foibles....

    ), which not only shifts the beginning sounds of the word lobotomy, but the entire phrase "frontal lobotomy". The preceding phrase was further developed by Dean Martin
    Dean Martin
    Dean Martin was an American singer, film actor, television star and comedian. Martin's hit singles included "Memories Are Made of This", "That's Amore", "Everybody Loves Somebody", "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You", "Sway", "Volare" and "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?"...

    , who said, "I would rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy." A similar example is "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than give Drood a frontal lobotomy!" said by the character Durdles in the musical comedy version of Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood
    The Mystery of Edwin Drood
    The Mystery of Edwin Drood is the final novel by Charles Dickens. The novel was left unfinished at the time of Dickens' death, and his intended ending for it remains unknown. Though the novel is named after the character Edwin Drood, the story focuses on Drood's uncle, choirmaster John Jasper, who...

  • Spoonerism was chosen as one of the character personalities of the seven dwarfs during the production of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937 film)
    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a 1937 American animated film based on Snow White, a German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. It was the first full-length cel-animated feature in motion picture history, as well as the first animated feature film produced in America, the first produced in full...

    , becoming the lead dwarf Doc.
  • Shel Silverstein
    Shel Silverstein
    Sheldon Allan "Shel" Silverstein , was an American poet, singer-songwriter, musician, composer, cartoonist, screenwriter and author of children's books. He styled himself as Uncle Shelby in his children's books...

    's last children's book was entitled Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook
    Runny Babbit
    Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook is the title of a children's book by Shel Silverstein. A work in progress for the better part of 20 years, the book was published posthumously in 2005. The book is largely composed of spoonerisms in rhyming verse....

  • In the English translations of the Finnish Moomins books, the characters Thingumy and Bob often use these, sometimes referring to themselves as "Bingumy and Thob", and stating things are "worry vell" (very well).
  • In a situation where profanity
    Profanity is a show of disrespect, or a desecration or debasement of someone or something. Profanity can take the form of words, expressions, gestures, or other social behaviors that are socially constructed or interpreted as insulting, rude, vulgar, obscene, desecrating, or other forms.The...

     is unsuitable, a spoonerism is sometimes used to tone down the intensity of the expression or just to bend the rules. For example, "Bass ackwards" in place of ass backwards or "Nucking Futs" instead of fucking nuts.
  • In music, there have been several rock
    Rock music
    Rock music is a genre of popular music that developed during and after the 1960s, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, itself heavily influenced by rhythm and blues and country music...

     albums called Cunning Stunts. Some other music albums containing a spoonerism are Punk in Drublic
    Punk in Drublic
    Punk in Drublic is the fifth studio album by the American punk rock band NOFX. It was released on July 19, 1994 through Epitaph Records....

    and Liberal Animation
    Liberal Animation
    Liberal Animation is the debut album by the American punk rock band NOFX. It was originally released in 1988 through Wassail Records. It was re-released through Epitaph Records in 1991. The title is a play on the phrase "animal liberation" and the cover artwork is a reflection of that. The track...

    by NOFX
    NOFX is an American punk rock band from Los Angeles, California .The band was formed in 1983 by vocalist/bassist Fat Mike and guitarist Eric Melvin. Drummer Erik Sandin joined NOFX shortly after. In 1991 El Hefe joined to play lead guitar and trumpet, rounding out the current line-up...

    , as well as Night in the Ruts
    Night in the Ruts
    -Side two:-Personnel:*Steven Tyler - lead vocals*Joe Perry - guitar, backing vocals*Brad Whitford - guitar*Tom Hamilton - bass*Joey Kramer - drums-Additional personnel:*Jimmy Crespo - additional guitars*Richie Supa - additional guitars - "Mia"...

    by Aerosmith
    Aerosmith is an American rock band, sometimes referred to as "The Bad Boys from Boston" and "America's Greatest Rock and Roll Band". Their style, which is rooted in blues-based hard rock, has come to also incorporate elements of pop, heavy metal, and rhythm and blues, and has inspired many...

     and Suck Fony
    Suck Fony
    Suck Fony is a re-release of American alternative band Wheatus' poorly-promoted second album Hand Over Your Loved Ones. The album was released in February 2005 on the band's own record label, Montauk Mantis, after they decided to leave Sony BMG...

    by Wheatus
    Wheatus are an American rock group from Northport, New York. They are known for their 2000 single "Teenage Dirtbag" which was featured in the movie Loser, as well as in the HBO miniseries Generation Kill.-1995-2002: Formation and Wheatus:...

    . Christian
    Christian rock
    Christian rock is a form of rock music played by individuals and bands whose members are Christians and who often focus the lyrics on matters concerned with the Christian faith. The extent to which their lyrics are explicitly Christian varies between bands...

    Metalcore is a subgenre of heavy metal combining various elements of extreme metal and hardcore punk. The name is a portmanteau of the names of the two genres. The term took on its current meaning in the mid-1990s, describing bands such as Earth Crisis, Deadguy and Integrity...

     band The Devil Wears Prada
    The Devil Wears Prada (band)
    The Devil Wears Prada is an American metalcore band from Dayton, Ohio. Formed in 2005, they are currently signed to Warner Music Group...

     has a song titled "Don't Dink and Drance" on their 2007 album, Plagues
    Plagues (album)
    Plagues is the second studio album by American metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada. It was released on August 21, 2007 through Rise Records and was re-released on October 28, 2008, in which includes bonus content.-Background:...

    . The band name Buck Cherry is a spoonerism.
  • Kevin Gilbert
    Kevin Gilbert
    Kevin Matthew Gilbert was an American songwriter, musician, composer, producer and collaborator born in Sacramento, California, later living in San Mateo, California where he attended Junipero Serra High School...

     released an album titled The Shaming of the True
    The Shaming of the True
    The Shaming of the True is Kevin Gilbert's second solo album. It was released posthumously in 2000.The release appeared in three editions to date: 1) a limited-edition hardbound book with CD edition released early in 2000, with artwork and complete libretto, 2) a more conventional jewel-case CD...

  • On his BBC
    The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

     television series, the British disc jockey
    Disc jockey
    A disc jockey, also known as DJ, is a person who selects and plays recorded music for an audience. Originally, "disc" referred to phonograph records, not the later Compact Discs. Today, the term includes all forms of music playback, no matter the medium.There are several types of disc jockeys...

     and comedian Kenny Everett
    Kenny Everett
    Kenny Everett was an English comedian, radio DJ and television entertainer. Born Maurice James Christopher Cole, Everett is best known for his career as a radio DJ and for the Kenny Everett television shows.-Early life:...

     frequently portrayed a movie starlet of rather questionable morals, and over-familiarity with the casting couch
    Casting couch
    The casting couch, casting couch syndrome or casting couch mentality is a term which involves the trading of sexual favors by an aspirant, apprentice employee, or subordinate to a superior, in return for entry into an occupation, or for other career advancement within an organization...

     called 'Cupid Stunt'. The original name for the character was Mary Hinge but the BBC vetoed it as they feared continuity announcers would incorrectly pronounce the spoonerism; rather bizarrely they allowed Cupid Stunt despite the same risk.
  • The British radio announcer McDonald Hobley
    McDonald Hobley
    McDonald Hobley, born Dennys Jack Valentine McDonald-Hobley, was one of the first BBC Television continuity announcers, appearing from 1946 to 1956.-Childhood and early career:...

     famously introduced the politician Sir Stafford Cripps
    Stafford Cripps
    Sir Richard Stafford Cripps was a British Labour politician of the first half of the 20th century. During World War II he served in a number of positions in the wartime coalition, including Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Minister of Aircraft Production...

     as Sir 'Stifford Crapps'.
  • British comedian and actor Ronnie Barker
    Ronnie Barker
    Ronald William George "Ronnie" Barker, OBE was a British actor, comedian, writer, critic, broadcaster and businessman...

     produced a sketch called "the funeral of Dr Spooner" in which the minister delivers the eulogy entirely in spoonerisms.
  • In a BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

     episode of I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue, Barry Cryer
    Barry Cryer
    Barry Charles Cryer OBE is a British writer and comedian. Cryer has written for many noted performers, including Dave Allen, Stanley Baxter, Jack Benny, Rory Bremner, George Burns, Jasper Carrott, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Dick Emery, Kenny Everett, Bruce Forsyth, David Frost, Bob Hope, Frankie...

     referred to a certain radio/TV personality as a "shining wit".
  • On the Today programme on BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4
    BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

     on 6 December 2010, James Naughtie
    James Naughtie
    James Naughtie is a British radio presenter and radio news presenter for the BBC. Since 1994 he has been one of the main presenters of Radio 4's Today programme.- Biography :...

     used a spoonerism and mispronounced Jeremy Hunt's name, mixing his title, culture secretary, with his surname.
  • In J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, the Weasley children receive sweaters from their mother for Christmas. George Weasley wonders why he and his brother, Fred, have their initials stitched into their sweaters, saying, "we're not stupid — we know we're called Gred and Forge".
  • Australian author Paul Jennings
    Paul Jennings (Australian author)
    Paul Jennings AM is an English-born Australian children's book writer. His books mainly feature short stories that lead the reader through an unusual series of events that end with a twist.-Biography:...

     wrote a children's puzzle book in 1992 entitled "Spooner or Later", featuring illustrated pictures of spoonerisms of increasing complexity, requiring the reader to find their intended meaning.
  • Rap group OFWGKTA
    Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, often abbreviated OFWGKTA and also known simply as Odd Future or Golf Wang, is an alternative hip hop collective from Los Angeles, California...

     often go by both Wolf Gang (part of the acronym) and its spoonerism Golf Wang.
  • "Ring Kitchard" appears in the Monty Python
    Monty Python
    Monty Python was a British surreal comedy group who created their influential Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired on the BBC on 5 October 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series...

     episode "Blood, War, Devastation and Horror"
  • John Lennon was once quoted as saying in an interview that "time wounds all heels" instead of "time heals all wounds".


The Capitol Steps
Capitol Steps
The Capitol Steps are an American political satire group. It has been performing since 1981, and has released approximately thirty albums consisting primarily of song parodies. Originally consisting exclusively of Congressional staffers performing around Washington, D.C., the troupe now primarily...

, a political satire
Political satire
Political satire is a significant part of satire that specializes in gaining entertainment from politics; it has also been used with subversive intent where political speech and dissent are forbidden by a regime, as a method of advancing political arguments where such arguments are expressly...

 group, use spoonerisms in a segment of their show called "Lirty Dies and Scicious Vandals". Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin
Sarah Louise Palin is an American politician, commentator and author. As the Republican Party nominee for Vice President in the 2008 presidential election, she was the first Alaskan on the national ticket of a major party and first Republican woman nominated for the vice-presidency.She was...

's name has been parodied as "Parah Salin
Parasailing, also known as parascending, or "parakiting" is a recreational kiting activity where a person is towed behind a vehicle while attached to a specially designed canopy wing that reminds one of a parachute, known as a parasail wing...

" in an internet meme
Internet meme
The term Internet meme is used to describe a concept that spreads via the Internet. The term is a reference to the concept of memes, although the latter concept refers to a much broader category of cultural information.-Description:...


In a deliberate spoonerism, Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

Governor of Illinois
The Governor of Illinois is the chief executive of the State of Illinois and the various agencies and departments over which the officer has jurisdiction, as prescribed in the state constitution. It is a directly elected position, votes being cast by popular suffrage of residents of the state....

 Adlai Stevenson once stated, "Speaking as a Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the apostle Peale appalling" (in reference to Norman Vincent Peale
Norman Vincent Peale
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was a minister and author and a progenitor of the theory of "positive thinking".-Early life and education:...

, who had opposed his candidacy).

Twisted tales

Comedian F. Chase Taylor was the star of the 1930s radio program Stoopnagle and Budd
Stoopnagle and Budd
Stoopnagle and Budd were a popular radio comedy team of the 1930s, who are sometimes cited as forerunners of the Bob and Ray style of radio comedy...

, in which his character, Colonel Stoopnagle, used spoonerisms. In 1945 he published a book, My Tale is Twisted, consisting of 44 "spoonerised" versions of well-known children's stories. Subtitled "Wart Pun: Aysop's Feebles" and "Tart Pooh: Tairy and Other Fales", these included such tales as "Beeping Sleauty" for "Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault or Little Briar Rose by the Brothers Grimm is a classic fairytale involving a beautiful princess, enchantment, and a handsome prince...

". The book was republished in 2001 by Stone and Scott Publishers as Stoopnagle's Tale is Twisted.

Archie Campbell
Archie Campbell
Archie Campbell was an American writer and star of Hee Haw, a popular long-running country-flavored network television variety show...

 of the television show Hee Haw
Hee Haw
Hee Haw is an American television variety show featuring country music and humor with fictional rural Kornfield Kounty as a backdrop. It aired on CBS-TV from 1969–1971 before a 20-year run in local syndication. The show was inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the major difference being...

was also well known for telling twisted tales, the most famous of which being the story of "RinderCella
"Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper" is a folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward. Thousands of variants are known throughout the world. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune...

". All of Campbell's spoonerism routines borrowed heavily from Colonel Stoopnagle.

Kniferism and forkerism

As complements to spoonerism, Douglas Hofstadter
Douglas Hofstadter
Douglas Richard Hofstadter is an American academic whose research focuses on consciousness, analogy-making, artistic creation, literary translation, and discovery in mathematics and physics...

 used the nonce terms kniferism and forkerism to refer to interchanging the nuclei and codas
Syllable coda
In phonology, a syllable coda comprises the consonant sounds of a syllable that follow the nucleus, which is usually a vowel. The combination of a nucleus and a coda is called a rime. Some syllables consist only of a nucleus with no coda...

, respectively, of syllable
A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus with optional initial and final margins .Syllables are often considered the phonological "building...

s (spoonerism then being reserved for exchange of the onsets). Examples of so-called kniferisms include a British television newsreader once referring to the police at a crime scene removing a 'hypodeemic nerdle'; a television announcer once saying that "All the world was thrilled by the marriage of the Duck and Doochess of Windsor" and that word regarding an impending presidential veto had come from "a high White Horse souse" (instead of "a high White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 source"); and during a live broadcast in 1931, radio presenter Harry von Zell
Harry von Zell
Harry von Zell , born in Indianapolis, made his mark as an announcer of radio programs and an actor in films and television shows....

 accidentally mispronouncing US President Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover
Herbert Clark Hoover was the 31st President of the United States . Hoover was originally a professional mining engineer and author. As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted partnerships between government and business...

's name, "Hoobert Heever." Usage of these new terms has been limited; many sources count any syllable exchange as a spoonerism, regardless of location.

See also

  • Malapropism
    A malapropism is an act of misusing or the habitual misuse of similar sounding words, especially with humorous results. An example is Yogi Berra's statement: "Texas has a lot of electrical votes," rather than "electoral votes".-Etymology:...

  • Sananmuunnos
    Sananmuunnos is a sort of verbal play in the Finnish language, similar to spoonerisms in English.Special to Finnish is a narrow phoneme inventory and vowel harmony. As Finnish is a mora-divided language, it is morae that are exchanged, not syllables...

  • Parody
    A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

  • Phonetic reversal
    Phonetic reversal
    Phonetic reversal is the process of reversing the phonemes of a word or phrase. When the reversal is identical to the original, the word or phrase is called a phonetic palindrome. Phonetic reversal is not entirely identical to backmasking, which is specifically the reversal of recorded sound...

  • Portmanteau
  • Freudian slip
    Freudian slip
    A Freudian slip, also called parapraxis, is an error in speech, memory, or physical action that is interpreted as occurring due to the interference of some unconscious , subdued, wish, conflict, or train of thought...

  • Kermit Schaefer
    Kermit Schaefer
    Kermit Schafer was an American writer and producer for radio and television in the 1950s and 1960s. He is best known for his collections of "bloopers" — the word Schafer coined for mistakes and gaffes of radio and TV announcers and personalities.-Early bloopers:Bloopers came into prominence in...

  • Smart Feller Fart Smeller: And Other Spoonerisms
    Smart Feller Fart Smeller: And Other Spoonerisms
    Smart Feller Fart Smeller: And Other Spoonerisms is a 2006 fiction book by Jon Agee.-Book information:The book is filled with spoonerisms that are formed as questions or answers. The book starts with a brief introduction about William Archibald Spooner and closes the book with translations of each...


External links

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