Following in the awkward steps of Mondegreens and Spoonerisms, we meet Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan’s play of 1775, The Rivals. That unfortunate woman had a strong tendency to use words that sounded quite similar to the words that were actually called for. For some more recent examples of malaprops, enjoy the following:
The magazine New Scientist claims an employee referred to a colleague as “a suppository (repository) of knowledge.”
In Huckleberry Finn, Aunt Sally declares, “I was most putrified (petrified) with astonishment.”
The late mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, called a tandem bicycle a tantrum bicycle.
Basketball player Drew Gooden remarked, “I’ve had to overcome a lot of diversity (adversity).”
And Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees could always be counted on for a startling turn of phrase. Of another player he said, “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious (ambidextrous).”
Frigate bird, Galapagos © Judi Birnberg
Now that you know what a mondegreen is, we can turn to spoonerisms, named for the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930). Apparently, he was prone to transposing the initial consonants of two words to such an extent that his mistakes came to be named after him.
Can’t you picture him officiating at a wedding and telling the groom, “It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride”?
In England, a popular dish is chish and fips. You might want a few belly jeans for dessert. And George W. Bush, known for his verbal gaffes, once declared, “If the the terriers and bariffs are torn down, the economy will grow.”
Maybe Rev. Spooner would have recognized my illustration as a brigate fird.
Is this a pird of grey? ©Judi Birnberg
A Spoonerism is born when, most commonly, the initial consonants of two words are transposed.
The Reverend William Spooner, for whom this verbal glitch is named, was renowned for many of these slips, several of which I listed in my previous post. In chapel at Oxford, Spooner once called for the singing of the hymn, “Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take.” Got that? Other clerics praised God as a “shoving leopard” and spoken of John the Baptist’s “tearful chidings.”
Chances are we’ve all fallen prey to these slips. I clearly remember speaking of a “grebt of datitude” once at a job interview. The interviewer and I both laughed and, somehow, I did get the job. It’s nice when people are understanding.
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.”