The Beard Weaver’s Weird Beavers (and Other Spoonerist Oddities)
“Do your hawks have souls in them?”
That was the seemingly mystical question my wife asked my son out of the blue one afternoon. She’d meant to inquire, of course, as to whether his socks had holes, but like almost all of us at one time or another fell victim to a type of tumbled jock—er, that is, jumbled talk—known as the spoonerism.
The spoonerism got its name from the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, a priest and scholar who reluctantly attained renown as the most illustrious bird watcher—I mean, word botcher—of all time.
The kindly and learned, but verbally bumbling, Spooner (1844—1930) was an Oxford University dean who had lectured in divinity, philosophy and history. During one such lesson it is said he scolded a student for having “hissed all my mystery lectures,” having thus “tasted two worms.” Another student—evidently an aspiring pyromaniac—was admonished for “fighting a liar in the quadrangle.”
Spooner’s flubs during sermons were no less amusing, the best known being his befuddling proclamation that “Our Lord is a shoving leopard.” According to legend, he once assisted a parishioner whose pew was occupied, with the kind offer, “May I sew you to another sheet? His loyalty to queen and country yielded other classic slips, as when he patriotically announced during WWI that “When our boys come home from France, we’ll have the hags flung out!” On another occasion he dubiously honoured Queen Victoria by proposing a toast to “our queer old dean!” That same monarch must surely have been mystified when, in a speech to her, Spooner revealed that he had in his bosom “a half-warmed fish.”
It may well be that the reverend’s linguistic legacy was enriched by the mimicry of students making sport of his verbal eccentricities. The case for Spooner having uttered all of the quirky phrases attributed to him has about as much substance, I’m sure, as a well-boiled icicle. Regardless, a spoonerism was not a spoonerism until that queer old dean of Oxford came along. And for that—to use a pawned phrase—we owe him our fond praise.
Several years ago I started to write down spoonerisms whenever they came to mind. Eventually this led to the writing of a nautical adventure tale that featured at least one phonetic flip per sentence. But even after “Manta Ray Jack and the Crew of the Spooner” was published in my poetry collection Floors of Enduring Beauty, the spoonerisms kept on coming. So I’ve decided to share the best of them in the form of one-liners for the enjoyment, or vexation, of all who happen upon this blog.
As of this writing, I have approximately 1,100 original specimens, which I intend to post one-by-one or in batches from now until the end of time. And by “original,” I don’t mean that I’m necessarily the first to discover each one that I’ll post, just that each one occurred to me without my having heard or read it elsewhere. In cases where the spoonerism is not an original in this sense, I’ll be sure to attribute it as well as possible to the original source.
Most of these transpositions popped into my head while I was busily working away at unrelated tasks; many were spontaneous re-arrangements of things said by others; some appeared in dreams or upon first waking; and others were the product of obsessive rumination—spoonerist thinking can be compulsive! I later found that at least a few of my favourites had already been put to use by other writers, but I’m quite willing to forgive them. In fact, I commend them. Only lazy crooks (with crazy looks) plagiarize the written word. It takes real ingenuity to steal an author’s work before he’s even thought of it!
14 January 2014
A nursery coat to anyone with thirty dots: Those of you hoping to find in these entries the sort of bathroom humour too often associated with wordplay had best look elsewhere. This is a wholesome endeavour which I hope will serve as proof that there are plenty of cunning stunts one can perform with language without resorting to vulgarity! (Nevertheless, in the event that something I post might be deemed objectionable, I’ll be sure to warn the reader of any possible lexical nastiness.)