What is Spoonerism? Everything you need to know

Spoonerism refers to the error in speech while communicating, where the vowels, consonants, or morphemes of two words get interchanged in a sentence. This term was after the minister and don of Oxford William Archibald Spooner, who was known for his mistakes in interchanging vowels and letters of words while speaking. Spoonerisms are often heard as a slip of the tongue or getting one’s words tangled up. Spoonerisms, though, occur unintentionally can be intentionally in WordPlay and other literary activities.

Causes of Spoonerism

A spoonerism is a common mistake which we all have made while talking. We have mixed up the words or the letters of two consecutive words at some point. Earlier in the twentieth-century psychologists used to believe that the human brain produces the language one word at a time. They said that the first word acts as a stimulus to prompt the production of the next word. But now cognitive psychologists have theorized that the human brain produces the words of a language in chunks. The brain, not create one word at a time, rather prepares a set of words that is while communicating. So the mistakes made during speech (spoonerisms) happen because we frame a bunch of words we want to say in our brains. And many a time, these words get jumble up when we communicate.

The study of Spoonerism has helped scientists to come up with new theories about the workings of the brain. Spoonerisms may look like mere mistakes, but, they follow a fixed pattern or set of rules. When two sounds, alter between two or more words, for the majority of the time, they almost sound similar. Spoonerisms hence occur due to the inference by some internal or external stimulus in the coordination of the words formed in the brain before a speech.

Spoonerisms in Different Parts of Literature


  • Many poets have written about Spoonerism and spoonerisms in their poems. Some of those poems are stated below:
  • “Runny Babbit,” written by Shel Silverstein, is one poem that is a complete spoonerisms. Even the names of the characters in the poem are Spoonerism.
  • Another poem was by Brian P. Cleary “Translation,” describes a boy named Alex who talks only in spoonerisms like he says, “took a shower” as “shook a tower” or says “belly jeans” when he finds some “jelly beans.” The poem is a hilarious take on the concept of Spoonerism and in the last line of the poem he writes, “he pepped in a stew” and “we’ll tell him he should wipe his shoe,” which is left completely to the reader’s intellect to understand what he meant.

Twisted tales

Writer and comedian F. Chase Taylor’s character Colonel Stoopnagle, in the 1930 radio program Stoopnagle and Budd, used a lot of spoonerisms .again in 1945, he had a book, My Tale Is Twist, where he wrote 44 “spoonerised” well-known children’s stories. Other subtitles named “Wart Pun: Aysop’s Feebles” and “Tart Pooh: Tairy and Other Fales,” consists of stories like “Bleeping Steauty” which is Sleeping Beauty when not spoonerised. This book was republish by Stone and Scott in 2001 with the name Stoopnagle’s Tale Is Twist.


Most of the quotes in Spoonerism, which are attributed to William Archibald Spooner are apocryphalThe Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Spooner’s soul spoonerism is “The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take,” which is actually the hymn, “The Conquering Kings Their Tiles Takes.” Most of the spoonerisms related to Spooner are rather made by his colleagues and students than himself as a mode of time pass. Some of the examples of these spoonerisms are:

  • “The Lord is a shoving leopard.” The actual saying being “The Lord is a loving shepherd.”
  • “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” The actual saying being “three cheers to our dear old queen.”
  • “You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted the whole worm. Leave Oxford on the next town drain.” The actual saying being, “You have missed all my history lectures. You have the waste the whole term. Leave Oxford on the next down train.”
  • “A blushing crow.” The actual saying being “a crushing blow”.
  • “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” The actual saying being “Is it customary to kiss the bride”.
  • “Is the bean dizzy?” The actual saying being “is the Dean busy”.
  • “A well-boiled icicle” The actual saying being “A well-oiled bicycle.”
  • “Someone is occupewing my pie. Please sew me to another sheet.” The actual saying being “Someone is occupying my pew. Please show me to another seat.”
  • “A nosey little cook.” The actual saying being “a cozy little nook.”


A spoonerism is a part of the Wordplay section of any language. Though it discover on the consequences of William Spooner’s inability to speak without any mistakes or interchange words, Spoonerism has made its position in one of the fun WordPlay categories. Everyone at some point in time has mistakenly pronounced or jumbled up the words in their sentences. Again people nowadays use Spoonerisms in TV shows and other reality shows for word challenges and other word games. So it can be said that Spoonerism is a part of our daily life and also is a fun activity in making and decoding Spoonerisms.

See also: Top 6 Ways to Improve Vocabulary Immediately | Learn New Words Easily

About the Author: John Watson

Hello mates! I'm John and I absolutely love playing with words. I can eat, sleep and breathe it! That's the primary reason for starting this website, that I can share the cool information that I have learnt about words and vocabulary over the years. Hope you like it. ^_^

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