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What are Spoonerisms?

Spoonerisms are phrases, sentences, or words in language with swapped sounds. Usually this happens by accident, particularly if you're speaking fast. Come and wook out of the lindow is an example.

Of course, there are many millions of possible Spoonerisms, but those which are of most interest (mainly for their amusement value) are the ones in which the Spoonerism makes sense as well as the original phrase. Go and shake a tower and a well-boiled icicle illustrate this well (go and take a shower, a well-oiled bicycle).

Since Spoonerisms are phonetic transpositions, it is not so much the letters which are swapped as the sounds themselves. Transposing initial consonants in the speed of light gives the leed of spight which is clearly meaningless when written, but phonetically it becomes the lead of spite.

It is not restricted simply to the transposition of individual sounds; whole words or large parts of words may be swapped: to gap the bridge and manahuman soup (to bridge the gap, superhuman man). And sounds within a word may be transposed to form a Spoonerism too, as in crinimal and cerely (criminal, celery). It is not uncommon for Spoonerisms of this type to be created unintentionally.

Generally Spoonerisms which are produced accidentally are transpositions between words that resemble one another phonetically, such as cuss and kiddle and slow and sneet (kiss and cuddle, snow and sleet).

The name Spoonerism comes from the Reverend William Archibald Spooner who is reputed to have been particularly prone to making this type of verbal slip. See the Spoonerism history page for more about the Reverend Spooner.

More genuine Spoonerisms (those which the Reverend Spooner reputedly said himself), and other amusing Spoonerisms, can be found on our Spoonerism examples page.

Go to the Spoonerisms section of our online wordplay bookstore to see recommended books about these amusing slips of the tongue.

In the 1930s and 1940s, F. Chase Taylor – under his pseudonym of Colonel Stoopnagle – wrote many spoonerism fairy tales which appeared both in print and on his radio show. The original ones were printed in the Saturday Evening Post and he eventually published a collection of the stories in 1946 – a book which is now sadly out of print and much sought after. However, we are pleased to bring you a number of these stories on Fun-with-words.com, by Colonel Stoopnagle and other authors:

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