Spoonerisms

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I recently bought a book titled Um. It deals with verbal blunders people make, particularly in their speech. According to the author, Michael Erard, we commit a verbal blunder about once in every 10 words. Who knew?

No doubt you’ve heard of Spoonerisms, named (in 1885) for the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, of Oxford University. This man had an alarming propensity for mixing up the initial sounds of words. Until I read this book, I always thought that was the extent of a Spoonerism, but in addition the blooper has to result in a phrase that is inappropriate for the situation.

For example, Spooner was toasting Queen Victoria at a dinner and told the guests, “Give three cheers for our queer old dean!” He also admonished a student: “You have hissed all my mystery lectures. In fact, you have tasted two whole worms, and you must leave Oxford this afternoon by the next town drain.”

Spooner was aware of his tendency to tangle his words. He referred to his “transpositions of thought,” and at the conclusion of a talk he gave to alumni, he said, “And now I suppose I’d better sit down, or I might be saying—er—one of those things.”

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