The History of Spoonerisms......
February 1995 edition of Reader's Digest Magazine.
Spoonerisms are named after the Reverend W. A. Spooner (1844-1930) who
was Dean and Warden of New College in Oxford, England. He is reputed to have
made these verbal slips frequently. Let us salute the eponymous master of
the verbal somersault, the Rev. William Archibald Spooner. He left us all a
legacy of laughter. He also gave the dictionary a new entry: spoonerism. The
very word brings a smile. It refers to the linguistic flip-flops that turn
"a well-oiled bicycle" into "a well-boiled icicle" and other ludicrous ways
speakers of English get their mix all talked up. English is a fertile
soil for spoonerisms, as author and lecturer Richard Lederer points out,
because our language has more than three times as many words as any other –
616,500 and growing at 450 a year. Consequently, there's a greater chance
that any accidental transposition of letters or syllables will produce
rhyming substitutes that still make sense – sort of.
"Spooner," says Lederer, "gave us tinglish errors and English terrors at the same time."
Born in 1844 in London, Spooner became an Anglican priest and a scholar. During a 60-year association with Oxford University, he lectured in history, philosophy, and divinity. From 1876 to 1889, he served as a Dean, and from 1903 to 1924 as Warden, or president.
Spooner was an albino, small, with a pink face, poor eyesight, and a head too large for his body. His reputation was that of a genial, kindly, hospitable man. He seems also to have been something of an absent-minded professor. He once invited a faculty member to tea "to welcome our new archaeology Fellow."
"But, sir," the man replied, "I am our new archaeology Fellow."
"Never mind," Spooner said, "Come all the same."