Named after the Rev WA Spooner pictured thusly, who was being painted just as his glass eye fell out, this error of speech can be defined as '..accidental (or intentional) transposition of the initial sounds, or other parts, of two or more words, often resulting in an amusing ambiguity of meaning.'
Or for non-Oxford scholars, it just means getting the first letters of some words mixed up. But the amusing ambiguity of meaning bit is on the mark 'cause it's usually bloody funny!
So according to legend, poor old WA was a bit prone to making verbal stuff-ups of this type. And being something of an English scholar and thus stuffy academic (they're all stuffy), this would've been even more hilarious for his chums back at the uni.
The Rev Dr William Archibald Spooner (22nd July 1844 - 29th August 1930) was Warden of New College, Oxford for 21 years until his death. As an Anglican priest he was no stranger to pontificating from the pulpit and proselytizing the proletariat. What's less well known is that The Spoon vehemently denied committing many of these slips of speech. Various pesky Oxford undergraduates have been accused of perpetuating the legend. Hard to believe, I know.
One Mr Robert Seton, the Recorder of Devizes, once confessed to his share of responsibility in keeping the legend going. He later said that to his knowledge, the doctor made only one Spoonerism in his life, in the early part of 1879. This was noted in the Lancashire Daily Post of Monday 1st September 1930.
The thot plickens even further, as various historical anecdotes hold our hero as also being hard-of-hearing, short sighted and suffering from paraphasia (the production of unintended syllables, words, or phrases during the effort to speak). Given the poor bastard died well into his eighties I'd think he was well-entitled to a few foibles. Another description paints him as '..a small albino with a pink face, poor eyesight and a head too large for his body.' I must confess I'm starting to feel more than a bit sorry for this bloke.
Further digging, this time from The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Saturday 25th January 1896: 'One night when [Spooner] was out dining somewhere, he took up his fork, dabbed it into the lily-white hand of the lady next him, saying with a smile "My bread, I presume."
So as well as the honour of having an error of speech named after him, it's seems The Rev was quite the legend in his own lifetime and the subject of a fair bit of riddicule and gossip. And there we'll leave WA to continue to pest in reace. Personally I suspect that many of the anecdotes about his use of language are subject to humour and hyperbole and are perhaps a bit too clever to be true. Jolly good fun though..
Some noted Spoonerisms
The Lord is a shoving leopard
Mean as custard
A lack of pies
Wave the sails
You need to shake a tower
A bad salad
Soap in your hole
A Sale of Two Titties
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