What Does Spoonerism Mean

What Does Spoonerism Mean

Spoonerism refers to the practice of interchanging the corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes between two words in a phrase. Spoonerism can be a slip of the tongue resulting from unintentionally getting one’s words in a tangle or an intentional word play. This word play often results in whimsical and nonsensical words and phrases. In literature, spoonerism is mainly used to add a humorous effect. For example, look at the phrase ‘Tease my ears’.  This is spoonerism of ‘Ease my tears’.

The term spoonerism was derived from William Archibald Spooner, who tended to make these slips of the tongue. There are many examples of spoonerisms which are attributed to Spooner. The scientific name for spoonerism is metaphasis.

What Does Spoonerism Mean

A caricature of Spooner

Examples of Spoonerism

Three cheers for our queer old dean! – Three cheers for our dear old Queen!

The Lord is a shoving leopard. – The Lord is a loving shepherd.

Someone is occupewing my pie. Please sew me to another sheet. – Someone is occupying my pew. Please show me to another seat.

You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted a whole worm. Please leave Oxford on the next town drain. – You have missed all my history lectures. You have wasted a whole term. Please leave Oxford on the next down train.

You were fighting a liar in the quadrangle. – You were lighting a fire in the quadrangle.

A lack of pies – A pack of lies

It’s roaring with pain – It’s pouring with rain

Wave the sails – Save the whales

It is kistomary to cuss the bride. – It’s customary to kiss the bride.

Would you like a nasal hut? –  would you like a hazel nut?

It crawls through the fax .- it falls through the cracks.

Examples of Spoonerism in Literature

  • French author Boris Vian, in his novel L’Écume des jours(Froth on the Daydream) uses the name Jean-Sol Partre. This is a spoonerism of the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s name.
  • Brian P. Cleary, in his poem The translation, describes a boy who speaks in spoonerism.

“He once proclaimed, “Hey, belly jeans

When he found a stash of jelly beans.

But when he says he pepped in stew

We’ll tell him he should wipe his shoe.”

  • Shakespeare has used spoonerism in his play The Tempest. The name Caliban is a metathesis/spoonerism for the word “cannibal.”
  • Vladimir Nabokov uses the technique of spoonerism in Lolita as illustrated in the following examples.

“What’s the katter with misses?” I muttered (word-control gone) into her hair.

“If you must know,” she said, “you do it the wrong way.”

“Show, wight ray.”

“All in good time,” responded the spoonerette.

  • Terrance Tracy poem titled Spoonerism is also a good example of spoonerism.

“It tickles my bones
and pickles my tones
to hear dogs bark
is to hear bogs dark.

When birds are chirping
do you hear chirds birping
as you walk in the shade
do you salk in the whade.”

Image Courtesy:

Caricature of Spooner by Leslie Ward – Published in Vanity Fair, 21 April 1898, as “Men of the Day” Number 711. (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia  

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