Spoonerism is usually done on purpose for a humorous effect, but there are some occasions in which it’s done accidentally. The latter is most common when someone is speaking out loud. The term is named after William Archibald Spooner, whose history records are frequently switching up the beginnings of words. He was Warden of New College, Oxford. By the 1920s, the term was in common use.
Definition of Spoonerism
A spoonerism is a slip of the tongue that results in the rearrangement of word sounds. Usually, this occurs when the first sounds of two words are swapped. For example, “birty dirds” rather than “dirty birds” and “doggy fay” rather than “foggy day.” When someone is speaking out loud to a group, or even among friends and family members, it’s easy to get tongue-tied and eventually use a spoonerism. This is especially true if someone is talking quickly.
Today, the word “spoonerism” is used when any changes in word sounds occur. There are examples of spoonerisms in all forms of entertainment. They’re used by comedians in their standup, on radio and television programs, as well as in music. There are, of course, also examples in poems, plays, novels, and short stories.
Why Do Spoonerisms Happen?
Spoonerisms occur naturally when there is a breakdown of coordination between what someone wants to say and what is actually said. There is usually some kind of interference from an outside or inside force. For example, if someone is distracted by nerves or is thinking about something else while speaking. Or if while speaking, someone is distracted by something occurring physically around them. Interestingly, scientists have determined, as noted by Indiana Public Media, that spoonerisms almost always occur with the same part of the mixed-up words. This means that one is unlikely to mix up the beginning of one word with the end of another.
Often, a writer will choose to use spoonerisms when they want to engage in what is known as nonsense language. This style of writing is marked by the use of neologisms and nonce words. These words are not true words, meaning that they were invited for the express purpose of making an interesting sound and image in a specific piece of writing. Often, nonsense language is exactly what it sounds like— nonsense. This means that readers should approach this kind of text with an open mind and willingness to enjoy it based on sound alone. Some of the best nonsense poems in the English language are
- ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll
- ‘The Dong with the Luminous Nose’ by Edward Lear
- ‘On the Ning Nang Nong’ by Spike Milligan
Common Examples of Spoonerism
Below are a few examples of common spoonerisms. Usually, if one reads the mixed-up version of the words or phrase out loud, then it’s easy enough to interpret what’s being said.
- Frest bend — best friend
- Reamed so sea — seemed so real
- Pit nicking — nit picking
- Tot he — hot tea
- Bot hog duns — hot dog buns
- Det the pog — pet the dog
- Wise prinning — prize-winning
- Gigging for dold — digging for gold
- Munning his routh — running his mouth
- sothers and bristers — brothers and sisters
- dakeing minner — making dinner
- Arty panimal — party animal
Why Do Writers Use Spoonerism?
There are many reasons why a writer might use spoonerism. If they’re trying to create a comedic speech or monologue, they might use a spoonerism to drive home a point about someone or something. Sometimes, they can connect back to other parts of the writing and even include allusions. The humor may be dependent on a certain point of view.
In another instance, a writer might use spoonerisms when they are crafting dialogue. One of the best ways to create a convincing story that allows the reader to suspend their disbelief is by using convincing dialogue. This means using colloquialisms, pauses in the right places, and a progression of words that makes sense. Interesting a spoonerism into someone’s nervous speech or babbling rant about a subject might make the entire piece of writing feel more real. These slips of the tongue happen to everyone and may help the reader connect to the character.
Finally, it should be noted that a writer might use a spoonerism accidentally. It might be an error in their writing due to the speed at which they’re creating content, or it might come about when they try to read their own content and get the word sounds mixed up.
An example of a spoonerism is: “dad bog” rather than “bad dog.” Another example is “ticnic pable” rather than “picnic table.” Almost any two words can be transposed in this way.
A malapropism is when a word is used incorrectly, usually because the writer or speaker has mistaken it for a similar-sounding word. For example, using “auspicious” rather than “suspicious.”
Spoonerisms are a sign that the speaker is distracted, talking too fast, or is intentionally trying to make the listener laugh.
Spoonerisms happen when someone is distracted by internal or external stimuli. For example, seeing a fancy car go by and jumbling one’s words or suddenly feeling incredibly nervous and doing the same.
No. Spoonerisms are figures of speech. They are not a sign of dyslexia.
Related Literary Terms
- Aphorism: short, serious, humorous, and philosophical truths about life.
- Black Humor: a literary device that’s used in all forms of literature in order to discuss taboo subjects in a less distressing way.
- Comedy: a humorous and entertaining genre of literature, film, and television.
- Farce: a genre of comedic literature. It uses exaggerated and outrageous situations to create humor and make the audience laugh.
- Humor: a literary device that writers use in order to make their readers or audience members laugh. It should be entertaining.
- Neologism: a new word, serious or humorous, coined by a writer. It is used in everyday speech as well as in literary texts.
- Satire/Satirical Comedy: used to analyze behaviors to make fun of, criticize, or chastise them in a humorous way.
- Listen: Spoonerisms – Mixed up Syllables
- Watch: 70 Spoonerisms
- Listen: ‘Jabberwocky’: One of Literature’s Best Bits of Nonsense