A spoonerism is an error in speech or deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched (see metathesis). It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency. It 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 Schüttelreime. Spoonerisms are commonly used intentionally in humor, especially drunk humor.
Linguist Michael Erard argues that these particular verbal blunders were associated with Spooner due to two primary sociocultural influences of his time, one having to do with class, the other science: "Spooner came along at a time when the archetype of the blunderer was changing from someone who blundered deliberately to someone who did so accidentally." Before Spooner's association with the phenomenon, it was mostly associated with literary or theatrical portrayals of underclass individuals. Erard relates the shift (from deliberate mistakes to accidental blunders) to the emerging complexity of technological systems like railroads, systems in which accidents could cause greater trauma. In this way, he argues, "Reverend Spooner embodies an emerging figure of modernity as much as an icon of verbal blundering: the educated, upstanding citizen who suffered inexplicable accidents in public."
Most 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." 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, 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:
A newspaper column attributes this additional example to Spooner: "A nosey little cook." (cozy little nook).
In modern terms, "spoonerism" generally refers to any changing of sounds in this manner.
The Capitol Steps, a political satire group, use spoonerisms in a segment of their show called "Lirty Dies and Scicious Vandals".
In a deliberate spoonerism, Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson once stated, "Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the apostle Peale appalling" (in reference to Norman Vincent Peale, who had opposed his candidacy).
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann infamously misrepresented the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act signed into law by President Herbert Hoover as Hoot-Smalley tariffs which she claimed were the work of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration.
Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle, the stage name of F. Chase Taylor, was the star of a 1930s radio program Stoopnagle and Budd who used spoonerisms in his show and in 1945 published a book, My Tale is Twisted, consisting of forty-four "spoonerized" 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". The book was republished in 2001 by Stone and Scott Publishers as Stoopnagle's Tale is Twisted.
Archie Campbell of the television show Hee Haw was also well known for telling twisted tales, the most famous of which being the story of RinderCella. All of Campbell's spoonerism routines borrowed heavily from Colonel Stoopnagle.
As complements to spoonerism, Douglas Hofstadter used the nonce terms kniferism and forkerism to refer to interchanging the nuclei and codas, respectively, of syllables (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 source"); and during a live broadcast in 1931, radio presenter Harry von Zell accidentally mispronouncing US President Herbert Hoover's name, "Hoobert Heever." Usage of these new terms has been limited; many sources count any syllable exchange as a spoonerism, regardless of location.
A spoonerism is a play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched, named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency. Many "spoonerisms" attributed to Spooner are believed to have actually been made up by Oxford students.
Cohen, J.M.; Cohen, M.J. (1979) . The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations. Penguin. ISBN 0-1405-1016-8.