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A 'spoonerism' is a play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched (see metathesis). It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (18441930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency. Image File history File links Question_book-3. ... This article is about Word play. ... In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a sound in spoken language that is characterized by a closure or stricture of the vocal tract sufficient to cause audible turbulence. ... Note: This page contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. ... In Linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit in a given language. ... Metathesis is a sound change that alters the order of phonemes in a word. ... William Archibald Spooner (July 22, 1844–August 29, 1930) was educated at Oswestry School and New College, Oxford, the first non-Wykehamist to be so, and became an Anglican priest and a scholar. ... Jan. ... Year 1930 (MCMXXX) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display 1930 calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... and of the New College College name New College of St Mary Latin name Collegium Novum Oxoniensis/Collegium Sanctae Mariae Wintoniae Named after Mary, mother of Jesus Established 1379 Sister college Kings College, Cambridge Warden Prof. ...

While spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue resulting from unintentionally getting one's words in a tangle, they are considered a form of pun when used purposely as a play on words. For other uses, see Pun (disambiguation). ... This article is about Word play. ...


Examples of spoonerisms

Many of the quotations attributed to Spooner are apocryphal; The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edition, 1979) lists only one substantiated spoonerism: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer." In Judeo-Christian theologies, apocrypha refers to religious Sacred text that have questionable authenticity or are otherwise disputed. ... The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is an 1100-page book listing short quotations that are common in English language and culture. ...

Quotations attributed to Spooner include:

  • "The Lord is a shoving leopard" ("loving shepherd")
  • "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride" ("customary to kiss")
  • "Mardon me, padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?" (Pardon me, madam, this pew is occupied. Can I show you to another seat?")
  • To a student: "You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain" ("missed ... history," "lighting a fire," "wasted two terms," "down train")
  • To a lady at a college reception: "You'll soon be had as a matter of course" ("mad as a Hatter, of course")
  • "Let us glaze our asses to the queer old Dean" ("Let us raise our glasses to the dear old queen")
  • "We'll have the hags flung out" ("flags hung")
  • "a half-warmed fish" ("half-formed wish")
  • "Is the bean dizzy?" ("dean busy")
  • "Go and shake a tower" ("take a shower")
  • "a well-boiled icicle" ("well-oiled bicycle")

Modern usage

In modern terms, a spoonerism is any changing of sounds in this manner. While simple enough to do, a clever spoonerism is one that results in a funny phrase or sentence. "Flutterby" is an oft-cited example of a spoonerism that has not lost its original meaning. A well-known example is "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy" (variously attributed to W. C. Fields, Tom Waits, and most commonly Dorothy Parker), 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 who said, "I would rather have a FREE bottle in front of me than a PRE-frontal lobotomy. W. C. Fields (January 29, 1880 – December 25, 1946) was an American juggler, comedian, and actor. ... Thomas Alan Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor. ... Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) was an American writer and poet, best known for her caustic wit, wisecracks, and sharp eye for 20th century urban foibles. ...

When a digraph such as 'sh', 'ch', 'ph', etc... is used, both letters are moved to preserve the original verbal sound. For example, "Cheer for Dennis" would be "Deer for Chennis", or "Bloody Rush" would be "Ruddy Blush". Note: This page or section contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. ...

Best described or illustrated to new English speakers would be the transposition of the first staccato or plosive in a word pair such as peer dark. In musical notation, the Italian word staccato (literally detached, plural staccatos or staccati) indicates that notes are sounded in a detached and distinctly separate manner, with silence making up the latter part of the time allocated to each note. ... A stop or plosive or occlusive is a consonant sound produced by stopping the airflow in the vocal tract. ...

In a situation where profanity is unsuitable, spoonerism is sometimes used to tone down the intensity of the expression. "Bass ackwards", "Nucking Futs", and "Shake a tit" (itself a risque phrase) are all common examples of these kinds of spoonerisms. In cartoons, profanity is often depicted by substituting symbols for words, as a form of non-specific censorship. ...

The Capitol Steps, a political satire group, use spoonerisms in a segment of their show called "Lirty Dies and Scicious Vandals". The Capitol Steps are a popular American political satire group. ...

Zilch the Torysteller is a Renaissance fair actor who tells fairy tales completely in Spoonerisms. An actress playing the role of Mary Queen of Scots in 2003. ... A fairy tale is a story, either told to children or as if told to children, concerning the adventures of mythical characters such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, giants, and others. ...

The stories I tell have a bit of a twist to them. I spalk in toonerisms. Ah, I talk in spoonerisms. Citching one's swonsonants fack and borth Worning your Turds around. It's serfectly pimple. You just have to tink thaster than you falk


A well-worn insult in speeches of the college debating society type is to describe an opponent as "the sort of person the Rev. Spooner would have described as 'a shining wit'".[citation needed]

Kniferism and forkerism

Douglas Hofstadter uses the nonce terms kniferism and forkerism to refer to interchanging the nuclei and codas, respectively, of syllables. (Example: a British TV newsreader who, in a story about a crime scene, referred to the police removing a 'hypodeemic nerdle'.) Spoonerisms exchange the onsets. Douglas Richard Hofstadter (born February 15, 1945 in New York, New York) is an American academic. ... A nonce word is a word used only for the nonce—to meet a need that is not expected to recur. ... In phonetics and phonology, the nucleus is the central part of the syllable, mostly commonly a vowel. ... Note: This page contains phonetic information presented in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) using Unicode. ... For the computer operating system, see Syllable (operating system). ... In phonetics and phonology, a syllable onset is the part of a syllable that precedes the syllable nucleus. ...

Another example is an incident that happened to veteran newscaster (and Timex watch pitchman) John Cameron Swayze. During an interview on The Mike Douglas Show, he stated that on a radio show, he was making reference to a fellow journalist as a "noted woman columnist" but accidentally said "noted woolen communist". Timex Group B.V. is an American watch company. ... John Cameron Swayze (April 4, 1906-August 15, 1995), was a popular news commentator and game show panelist in the United States, during the 1950s. ... The Mike Douglas Show was an American daytime television talk show hosted by Mike Douglas that ran from 1961 to 1982. ...

Spoonerism in other languages

Spoonerisms are prolific in a few other languages. For example, the quirks of the selection of phonemes lend themselves well to this purpose. In human language, a phoneme is the theoretical representation of a sound. ...


The Danish term for spoonerism is "bakke snagvendt", which is itself a spoonerism of "snakke bagvendt" (i.e., talk backwards). The term is derived from a song by the puppet stars of the children's TV-show Kaj og Andrea. The song itself contains mainly spoonerisms based on the swapping around of one or two phonemes rather than syllables or morphemes. In spoken language, a phoneme is a basic, theoretical unit of sound that can distinguish words (i. ... This article discusses the unit of speech. ... In Linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit in a given language. ...


Spoonerisms in Dutch are made in the same manner as in English. Examples:

  • met vereende krachten ("with joined forces") → met verkrachte eenden ("with raped ducks")
  • tot de dood ons scheidt ("until death do us part") → tot de schijt ons doodt ("until the shit kills us")
  • ik heb het onderspit gedolven ("I suffered a defeat") → ik heb den Dolf ondergespit ("I have buried Adolf")
  • een beetje scheef ("a bit crooked") → een scheetje beef ("a fart-quiver")

Hitler redirects here. ...


In the Philippines, a common spoonerism is the local tongue twister; pitumpu't pitong puting tupa (seventy-seven white sheep). But due to the fast pronunciation, the t and p of the word tupa (sheep) is interchanged, pronouncing the word puta which means prostitute.


Finnish sananmuunnokset (literal translation 'word transformations' does not capture the spoonerism hidden in the original Finnish compound - sananmuunnokset becomes munansaannokset, which roughly means dick-gettings) are mainly used in jokes. Before transformation a Finnish spoonerism is something innocent and after transformation something obscene. A Finnish spoonerism is usually performed by telling the innocent version and letting the listener figure out the outcome. One example would be hillitön kuppi (hysterical cup) which can be changed into kulliton hippi (dickless hippie) It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with spoonerism. ...


The French contrepèterie is also facilitated by a strong Rabelaisian tradition for coarse, if witty, humor. Contrepéteurs excel in finding in seeming innocuous phrases the elements for the lewd and humorous. According to French tradition—and unlike the examples provided below—one should never utter nor write the second part of a spoonerism. Only the first part should be said, leaving readers or listeners trying hard to find the second funny part. Actually giving the solution of a spoonerism is considered distasteful. Rabelaisian refers to the works of Rabelais. ...

This is somewhat similar to certain English language jokes involving spoonerisms, in which one asks questions like "What is the difference between a rooster and a lawyer?" and provides only the non-spoonerised part of the answer ("One clucks defiance..."), leaving the usually-vulgar punch-line ("...the other fucks the clients") for the listener to come up with, and is far more subtle without the explicit joke formulation.

A famous example is the weekly column "Sur l'Album de la Comtesse" in the French weekly satirical journal Le Canard Enchaîné. Le Canard enchaîné is a satirical newspaper published weekly in France, founded in 1915, featuring investigative journalism and leaks from sources inside the French government, the French political world and the French business world, as well as a large number of jokes and humorous cartoons. ...

- For example, Les nouilles cuisent au jus de cane : les couilles nuisent au cul de Jeanne (which translates roughly as, the noodles are cooking in a duck broth: the balls hurt Jane's ass). The s and l in jus and cul are silent in French.

One from French comedian Coluche: Quand les Nippons bougent, la Chine se dresse : quand les nichons bougent, la pine se dresse (which translates as, when the Japanese stir, China reacts : when the boobs jiggle, the wood rises). Michel Colucci (October 28, 1944 – June 19, 1986), better known as Coluche, was a French comedian famous for his irreverent sense of humour . ...

Similarly, the French word for a tumble dryer, un sèche-linge, could give rise to a spoonerism un lèche-singe which would mean a person who licks monkeys. An electric clothes dryer A clothes dryer or tumble dryer (also spelt with an i: drier) is a major household appliance that is used to remove the residual moisture from clothing or fabrics, generally shortly after being cleaned in a washing or washing/drying machine. ...

A French radio announcer was reputed to say, instead of Les populations immenses du Cap (the immense population of Cap-Haïtien): Les copulations immenses du Pape. (The Pope's immense copulations). Looking into Cap-Haïtien from the northern edge of downtown Cap-Haïtien (or Le Cap) (Okap or Kapayisyen in Kréyòl) is a city of about 111,094 people (2003 census) on the north coast of Haiti. ...

Others include (interpretation left to reader):

Madame, je vous laisse le choix dans la date

Taisez-vous en bas

Arriver à pied par la Chine


The German Schüttelreim ('shake rhyme') is a rhyme where the initial consonants (or even the following vowels) of the last two stressed syllables are exchanged with one another. For example, Es klapperte die Klapperschlang',bis ihre Klapper schlapper klang. (by Heinz Erhardt) - The rattlesnake rattled, until its rattles sounded flabbier. Heinz Erhardt Heinz Erhardt (born February 20 1909 in Riga; died June 5 1979 in Hamburg) was a German comedian, musician, entertainer, actor, and poet. ...

A popular spoonerism in German derives from the German adaptation of the TV-show Saturday Night Live (German Title: RTL Samstag Nacht). A series of sketches was aired which had the title Kentucky schreit ficken. This spoonerism of Kentucky Fried Chicken means: Kentucky yells fuck. This was a parody on TV ads for McDonald's which used spoonerisms. SNL redirects here. ... KFC, also known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, is a food chain based in Louisville, Kentucky, known mainly for its fried chicken. ... McDonalds Corporation (NYSE: MCD) is the worlds largest chain of fast-food restaurants, primarily selling hamburgers, chicken, french fries, milkshakes and soft drinks. ...


In Greek, when someone has accidentally committed spoonerism (Σαρδάμ in Greek), it's common to apologize by saying "Γλώσσεψα τη μπέρδα μου", which is in fact a spoonerism for "Μπέρδεψα τη γλώσσα μου". It roughly translates to saying "I tongued my slip" instead of "I slipped my tongue". The word sardam is derived from a person named Madras [Μαδράς], who was, like Spooner, prone to verbal mistakes.


Hebrew speakers sometimes make fun of word pairs, where the two words are somehow similar, by flipping letters between the two to produce a pair of meaningless words, but such that the listener can easily figure the original meaning. Examples: First letter flipping -- "Zahag Nahir" (instead of "Nahag Zahir" (Hebrew: נהג זהיר‎) meaning "Careful driver") and "Chipor Tzirbena" (actually creating a cleaner form of the foul "Tzipor Chirbena" (Hebrew: ציפור חירבנה‎) meaning "A bird has defecated"). Two letter flip -- "Kesh VaChetzet" (instead of "Chetz VaKeshet" (Hebrew: חץ וקשת‎) meaning "An arrow and a bow"). Last letter flip -- "Chatzi Goom Aroof" (instead of "Chatzi Goof Aroom" (Hebrew: חצי גוף ערום‎) meaning "Half body is naked"). Hebrew redirects here. ... Hebrew redirects here. ... Hebrew redirects here. ... Hebrew redirects here. ...

The Israeli hip-hop band "Hadag Nachash (or Nahash)," is a spoonerism. The group's name literally means "The Snake Fish" (Hebrew: הדג נחש‎ — "Ha" meaning "the", "Dag" meaning "fish", and "Nachash" meaning "snake"). It is also, however, a Hebrew spoonerism. In Israel, people who have only recently gotten their driver's licence place a tag on their back window with the words: "Nahag Chadash" (Hebrew: נהג חדש‎ — "new driver"). There is also a joke, in which a Kibbutz volunteer tells in bad Hebrew that his job there is "Lezayen Metim" (Hebrew: לזיין מתים‎) meaning "To fuck dead people," instead of "Lemayen Zeytim" (Hebrew: למיין זיתים‎) meaning "To sort olives." Breakdance, an early form of hip hop dance, often involves battles, showing off skills without any physical contact with the adversaries. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Hebrew redirects here. ... The word Hebrew most likely means to cross over, referring to the Semitic people crossing over the Euphrates River. ... Driving licences within the European Union are subdivided in different categories. ... Hebrew redirects here. ... Kibbutz Merom Golan as seen from Bental mountain A Kibbutz (Hebrew: Translit. ... Hebrew redirects here. ... Hebrew redirects here. ...


The Hungarian kecskerím (goat rhyme) is a rhyming form where there are two rhyming words in each line, and in the second line, the starting letters of the rhyming words are exchanged, like "Ne ülj le a kőre, pandúr, / Megkarmol egy pőre kandúr!" (Don't sit on the stone, policeman, as a naked tomcat will scratch you!). Another example of Hungarian spoonerism is creating word pairs like "Vali fejlesztése" (Vali's development) and "Lali fejvesztése" (Lali's beheading).


In Icelandic the closest word to spoonerism is "stafarugl", -a jumble of letters. This word is more commonly used for anagrams. One humorous Icelandic spoonerism is about buying popcorn and a Coca Cola drink: "Mig langar að fá kokk og póp, takk fyrir". The humour of this statement is most fully appreciated with an understanding of both Icelandic and English.


Jokes based on spoonerisms are quite popular in Polish; they are collectively called Gra półsłówek ('A play with monosyllables'). They often require a bit of imagination in order to find out which letters need to be changed to get a new meaning. Very often the new meaning is more or less rude. The game's name itself is a spoonerism — switching the bolded letters results in Sra półgłówek, which means 'A half-dumb is shitting'. Some Polish sports commentators are also well-known for their spoonerisms, made unwittingly in the heat of the action.

Serbian, Bosnian, or Croatian

Spoonerisms are easy to construct in Serbian language, Bosnian language, or Croatian language, since the relationship between the alphabet and the phoneme system is relatively close. The new meanings are often rude. Example: pita od višanja ('a cherry pie') turns into vita od pišanja ('she went slim by pissing').
Sentences of comparison (see: Swedish) can also be heard, such as Bolje da ti se zavrti u glavi nego da ti se zaglavi u vrtu ('It is better to have a vertigo than to have your thing stuck in the garden'), or Bolje da čovek priča o kolima, nego da o čoveku kolaju priče (roughly It is better when a man is talking about cars, than when stories are circulating about the man, a Spoonerism involving three words rather than two). Serbian (; ) is one of the standard versions of the Shtokavian dialect, used primarily in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and by Serbs in the Serbian diaspora. ... Bosnian language (Latin script: bosanski jezik) is a South Slavic language native to the Bosniak people and Ethnic Bosnians. ... Croatian language (hrvatski jezik) is a South Slavic language which is used primarily by the inhabitants of Croatia and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of the Croatian diaspora. ...


In Spanish, a spoonerism is usually used as a euphemism. For example, "Una cabra de bolones" instead of "Una bola de cabrones" ("a granite goat" instead of "a bunch of assholes"). When an unintentional spoonerism is committed, it is common to say "Se me lenguó la traba," a spoonerism for "Se me trabó la lengua" (My tongue got stuck). A euphemism is the substitution of an agreeable or less offensive expression in place of one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the listener;[1] or in the case of doublespeak, to make it less troublesome for the speaker. ...


Similar jokes are told in Swedish, conventionally stating which one of two similar-sounding options the average person would prefer, as in: Bättre en back läsk i hallen än ett läskigt hack i ballen. meaning "Rather a crate of sodas in the hall than a horrible hack to the balls." Other examples include Bättre att borsta katten än att kasta bort den ("Better to brush the cat than throwing it away") and Bättre att frysa i tältet än att tälta i frysen ("Better to freeze in your tent than tenting in your freezer."), Bättre att pissa i en stupränna än att stupa i en pissränna ("It's better to piss in a rain gutter than to fall in a urinal trough") and Hellre en rövare i poolen än en polare i röven ("Rather a robber in the pool than a friend in the ass"). Another example is Hellre en Daim i handen än en hand i dajmen ("Rather a Daim in your hand than a hand up your ass"). A typical British Daim bar The Daim bar (known prior to September 2005 as the Dime bar in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, when Kraft Foods rebranded it to bring the product in line with the rest of Europe) is a crunchy caramel bar covered in milk...

The phenomenon is commonly referred to as bala taklänges, which translates into "beaking spackwards."


Spoonerisms are the basis for many jokes, riddles, and other word play. Vietnamese, being a language with many monosyllabic words, is especially suited to this type of word play. Spoonerisms of polysyllabic words often cannot significantly change the words' meanings, and thus are easily deciphered. As a result, their value for word play is severely limited. Spoonerisms of monosyllabic words, however, can completely alter the meaning of an entire sentence. In Vietnamese, there exist many complex jokes and riddles involving the interchange of initial sounds, vowels, or even tones over multiple steps, with each intermediate step being a valid, clever construction.

See also

Look up malapropism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A tongue-twister is a phrase in any language that is designed to be difficult to articulate properly. ... A Feghoot is a short story, ending in an atrocious pun. ... Phonetic reversal is the process of reversing the phonemes of a word or phrase. ... Freudian Slip A Freudian slip, or parapraxis, is an error in speech, memory or physical action that is believed to be caused by the unconscious mind. ...


  1. ^ Zilch the Torysteller

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Spoonerism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1953 words)
A spoonerism is a play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched (see metathesis), named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency.
While spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue (sometimes spoonerised as tips of the slung), they are considered a form of pun when used purposely as a play on words.
Spoonerisms in Dutch are made in the exact same manner as in English.
Dr. Spooner of Oxford - Spoonerisms - biography (337 words)
Spooner became a fellow of New College in 1867, a lecturer in 1868, a tutor in 1869, dean 1876-1889 (having been ordained as an Anglican priest in 1875) and Warden of New College from 1903, the year in which he completed his Doctor of Divinity degree.
Spooner was an albino and as such, suffered from defective eyesight - he was also short in stature a head dispropotionately large in relation to his body.
Spooner's tendency towards Spoonerism led many people to mistakenly presume that he was a sandwich or two short of a picnic.
  More results at FactBites »



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