Sunday, July 3, 2011

Spooner's speech

As indicated in the definition, this eponym is named after William Archibald Spooner, who is caricatured above in an 1898 Vanity Fair illustration. Spooner was dean of New College, Oxford, where he studied and stayed for 60 years. The quintessential absent-minded professor became known for muddling his words, but today would probably be diagnosed with dyspraxia. He disliked his reputation and said to an audience assembled to hear him speak, "You haven't come for my lecture, you just want to hear one of those...things." Of all "those things" he was said to have uttered, only 2 are more or less substantiated as his words: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer" and "Kinkering congs their titles take." Other Spoonerisms are apocryphal, but hilarious all the same:
  • "The Lord is a shoving leopard."
  • "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride."
  • "Can I sew you to another sheet?"
  • "We'll have the hags flung out."
  • "Is the bean dizzy?"
To "Spoo," as he was known among Oxford's undergraduates, were also attributed the phrases "well-boiled icicle" (well-oiled bicycle), "queer old dean" (dear old queen), and "half-warmed fish" (half-formed wish). But according to Michael Quinion on World Wide Words, what Spooner did was transpose entire words or ideas more often than just initial sounds. He referred to a friend of a Dr. Child as “Dr. Friend’s child,” and spoke of a widow whose late husband had been “eaten by missionaries.” In fact, Quinion writes, "there is evidence to suggest that the Reverend William Archibald Spooner rarely if ever uttered a Spoonerism." All the same, one of the funniest examples of a Spoonerism will continue - probably because of its appropriate educational setting - to be associated with its namesake:
"You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted 2 worms, you will leave by the next town drain."*
One thing is not disputed, and that is that Rev. Spooner was, oddly enough, an albino.

*Transposed from "You have missed all my history lectures, and were caught lighting a fire in the quad. Having wasted 2 terms, you will leave by the next down train."

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