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Albert’s Occasional Interesting Words

Albert’s Occasional Interesting Words

Spoonerism, n.

Recently I had occasion to use this word at the firm and it was new to my colleagues. Perhaps it’s unknown to others as well. So let me explain it.

A spoonerism occurs when a speaker transposes consonants, vowels, or morphemes between two words in a phrase or a sentence.

For example, you may wish to tell a fellow student, “You have missed the history lesson”. But what you actually say is, “You have hissed the mystery lesson”. Or you may want to ask, “Is it customary to kiss the bride?” But what comes out of your mouth is, “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” Or you can say, “This is the pun fart”, when you meant to say, “this is the fun part”. You can find these examples and many similar ones online.

The word is named after the Oxford don and ordained priest William Archibald Spooner, the dean of New College Oxford in the second half of the 19th century. On the occasion of one of Queen Victoria’s birthdays, he wanted to ask his colleagues to raise three cheers “to our dear old Queen”. What he allegedly said was, “Let’s raise three cheers to our queer old dean”. Whether he actually said that is debatable. It may be apocryphal, but if so, it is an excellent example of a spoonerism.

You will appreciate that the best spoonerisms are those that are unintentional. I confess that I once made an embarrassing spoonerism in one of my lectures. I wanted to use the well-known aphorism, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. But what I actually said, totally innocently I assure you, was, “A hand in the bush is worth two…” At which point I stopped. My head turned several shades of red, and I wanted the floor to swallow me up. But I survived.

Albert’s Word of the Month

Cruciverbalist, n.

To help you figure out its meaning, consider that cruci- has something to do “cross”, as in “crucifixion”. And -verbalist obviously has something to with words.

So, a cruciverbalist is a person who does crossword puzzles.


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