The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 22, 2017

July 22, 1844

An Oxford Don, The Reverend William Archibald Spooner, (July 22, 1844 to August 29, 1930, ) is the source of the name for a type of verbal mistake where the initial letters of words are reversed. As this Telegraph article reminds us, the results can be amusing:

[Reverend Spooner] was born in London on He was an albino and suffered defective eyesight, and it is thought that this caused some of his verbal confusions which were later dubbed "spoonerisms". These included "it is kisstomary to cuss the bride".

Spooner,...was an Anglican priest, scholar and writer. He studied at New College, Oxford, before lecturing there for 60 years, in history, philosophy and divinity.

He was apparently an amiable, kind and hospitable man, though absent-minded. He also had a keen intellect, which is where his problems began. His tongue barely kept up with his thought processes, resulting in an unintentional interchange of sounds, producing a phrase with a meaning entirely different from the one intended. That is what is now called a spoonerism.

The more agitated the good Reverend became, the more acute the manifestation of sound switching. There are a number of well substantiated oddities of a more subtle kind: "Was it you or your brother who was killed in the Great War?" ...
[for] example.

Spooner is buried In Grasmere Cemetery in the Lake District.


• On meeting a widow, he remarked that it was very sad, "her husband came to a sad end. He was eaten by missionaries."
• Calling John Millington Synge's famous Irish play "The Ploughboy of the Western World.
• At a wedding: "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride."
• "Blushing crow" for "crushing blow."
• "The Lord is a shoving leopard" (Loving shepherd).
• "A well-boiled icicle" for "well-oiled bicycle."
• "I have in my bosom a half-warmed fish" (for half-formed wish), supposedly said in a speech to Queen Victoria.
• A toast to "our queer old dean" instead of to "our dear old Queen."
• Upon dropping his hat: "Will nobody pat my hiccup?"
• "Go and shake a tower" (Go and take a shower).
• Paying a visit to a college official: "Is the bean dizzy?"
• "You will leave by the town drain."
• When our boys come home from France, we will have the hags flung out.
• "Such Bulgarians should be vanished..." (Such vulgarians should be banished).
• Addressing farmers as "ye noble tons of soil".
• "You have tasted a whole worm" (to a lazy student).
• "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer."
• And, the classic: "Mardon me padom, you are occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?"

Spoonerisms can sound very silly. Almost as much as the Telegraph explanation for this kind of event. The tongue can never keep up with the brain. And in most folks this does not result in spoonerisms. The real question however, and one I cannot answer: why are spoonerisms often so hysterically funny?

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