Saturday, February 4, 2012

Spoonerism – The Art of Rib-tickling Utterances

  What is spoonerism? Who is this Spooner? How has he enriched the English language? Read on and learn about a great legend and his famous rib-tickling utterances. 

  Once a wayfaring stranger stopped a reverend in the street and enquired of him about a certain route. Pat came the reply, “Just go down by Town Drain!” He is actually supposed to say, “Just go down by Down Train”

  The wayfaring stranger stood still with an apoplectic expression on his face, looking at the figure walking off majestically. Obviously he was not aware that he talked to a legend just then. And this very legend had the audacity to shock and enrage Her Majesty by addressing the Queen as ‘Our Queer Old Dean’ instead of ‘Our Dear Old Queen’.

  Later when someone appreciated his survival from implications for his discourteous remark to Her Majesty, he is supposed to have remarked to the bewilderment of the questioner, ‘The Lord indeed is shoving leopard.’ For he meant, of course, ‘the Lord indeed is a loving shepherd’… to have shepherded him from crisis.

  Who was this legend that the Lord was so merciful to have shepherded him from crisis to crisis?

Rev Dr William Archibald Spooner
  In 19th century, there lived a gentleman called Dr. Rev. William Archibald Spooner {1844-1930}, a distinguished Anglican clergyman and a warden of New College at Oxford.

  Spoonerism is what an accidental or intentional transposition of sounds or letters in a spoken sentence in a way the sense completely gets changed often acquiring hilarious undertones, other than the intended one. In other words spoonerism is simply metathesis. It is generally committed by the slip of the tongue. And this ‘tip of the lung’ err… ‘slip of the tongue’ was a natural phenomena with Dr. Rev. William Archibald Spooner, which catapulted him to the dizzying heights of fame thus making him a legend in his own lifetime.

  One day, a lady was occupying Dr. Spooner’s pew in the church. He came. He saw and said, “Lady you are peccupewing my pie”. Actually he was supposed to say, “Lady you are occupying my pew”. The dazed lady of course vacated the pew throwing nervous side glances at him.

  Once a student missed his history lectures. Dr. Spooner irked at his absence shouted, “You hissed my mystery lectures, why?” {He wanted to say, “You missed my history lectures?”}. The student didn’t know whether to laugh or sulk. On another occasion the church reverberated with suppressed laughter, when Rev Spooner, in the course of conducting a choir in the church solemnly said, “All rise and let us sing, ‘Kinkering Congs their titles take’ {the hymn actually is “Conquering Kings their titles take”}.

  Rev Dr Spooner while conducting a marriage, he simply said, ‘It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride’ {he actually wanted to say ‘It is now customary to kiss the bride’} to the shocking dismay of many, himself having the last laugh. While lecturing the class he once said, "He was killed by a blushing crow". Whereas Dr Spooner meant to say, "He was killed by a crushing blow."

  On another occasion, Rev Spooner was escorting a nasty bigwig to the church. Upon entering the premises, the others reported to have heard him say, ‘Let me sew you to your sheet’. {He is supposed to say, ‘Let me see you to your seat’} The bigwig simply glared at Dr Spooner. Was he malicious digging at others and himself having the last laugh. Was he so mean? No, he was a good scholar and a good teacher.

  As for his ‘slip of the tongue’, it comes very naturally to him. In fact, Julian Huxley puts it on record saying, “Dr. Spooner was not conscious of any of his actual lapses at the time he made them. It was this involuntary action that has to do “something a little wrong with some of the association centers in his brain.” That explains the phenomena of his scoring “last laughs” at others; and at times himself became a victim of his own lapses. Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, the renowned biologist and scholar, who worked under him as a Fellow of New College when Dr. Spooner was the Don of that ancient Foundation.

  On one occasion, he even seems to have made a butt of himself. Dr Spooner was taking a stroll in the college grounds deeply engrossed in his thoughts. Suddenly, his hat blew off. And running after it he shouted, “Oh Please, will nobody pat my hiccup.” But of course someone picked up his hat.

Spooner on Sermon
  With all these peculiarities it sounds incredible that he became famous. He endeared himself to one and all becoming a legend in his own lifetime with his kind of ‘kink’erring utterances called spoonerisms. Some say Spooner rarely committed spoonerisms. Many of his spoonerisms are alleged to have invented by unknown motley faces and attributing them onto Dr Spooner. Indeed Dr. Rev. William Archibald Spooner was quite aware and knew of his reputation. In one of the College meetings, Dr. Spooner concluded his wonderful little speech with “And now I suppose I would better sit down, or I might be saying… err… one of those things.”

  He did say one of those things hundreds of times during his lifetime thus enriching the English language with lots of humor and hilarity of which the sound still reverberates in the hearts of the English language enthusiasts.


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