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Spoonerisms and other slips of the tongue

Updated on March 22, 2012

A slip of the tongue

The English language has a remarkable propensity for being misunderstood. It’s bad enough that words mean different things to different people in various cultures; it becomes worse when words in a sentence get mistakenly mixed up. This is usually called a “Slip of the Tongue” A “Spoonerism” is when the first letter or syllable of words in a sentence are transposed.

An example of a slip of the tongue comes from one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I was the M.C. of a folk concert in the Welsh town of Carmarthen. In front of an audience of about two thousand people, I introduced a band, Aberjabber was the name, but instead of introducing them as “Wales most up and coming group” I introduced them as “Wales up and most coming group” The audience was delighted and I was reduced to jelly. However, “Spoonerisms” are unlike other slips of the tongue, they are a different “Fettle of Kitsch"

William Archibald Spooner

He brought a new word to the English language.
He brought a new word to the English language.


William Archibald Spooner (22, July 1844 – 29, August 1930) was a well liked and highly educated Don at NewCollege, Oxford. He was warden from 1903 until he retired in 1924. He lectured in Ancient history, Divinity and Philosophy. He was also an ordained Priest in the Church of England. His colleagues always spoke highly of his knowledge and wisdom but he is not remembered for any of that. He is famous because he got his murds wuddled. He became so well known for it that these malapropisms became known as “Spoonerisms”. He was not exactly thrilled with his notoriety, it is recorded that he once told an audience; “You haven’t come to hear me speak, you just want to hear me say one of those ‘Things’ “

Most of the Spoonerisms attributed to him were never said by him at all. They were the embellishments of his students. He did admit to one, he agreed that he said “Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take” but the reputation must have come from somewhere. Perhaps the most notorious occurred when, at a reception, he was called upon to make the Loyal Toast. Instead of raising his glass to “Our Dear Queen” he toasted “Our Queer Dean” They were unintentional, mere slips of the tongue but they have survived and will probably continue to do so.

Some others attributed, rightly or wrongly to him are;

"The Lord is a shoving leopard",

"It is kisstomary to cuss the bride"

"Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?"

"You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain"

"We'll have the hags flung out"

"He was killed by a blushing crow".


Richard Sheridan


Richard Brinsley Sheridan was the originator of the word "Malapropism" Sheridan was the owner of the Drury lane Theatre in London, an Actor, a Playwright and a Whig member of the British Parliament, he sided with the opposition leader Charles james Fox and supported the American Colonials in his speeches to Parliament. He was held in such high esteem that on his death he was buried in the poets corner of Westminster Abbey. He lived a colorful life and fought a famous duel against Captain Thomas Mathews who had defamed the lady he was about to marry where he nearly lost his life.

His first play was written in 1775 called "The Rivals" it was a failure on the first night so he did some creative re-casting and it went on to become a smash hit. In the play appears a "Mrs Malaprop" The word is derived from the French "mal a propos" which means inappropriate Mrs Malaprop would use the wrong word in a sentence for example "Their father was some kind of civil serpent" or "He is the very Pineapple of politeness"

Other plays of his, such as "The school for scandal" have become classics of English literature but it is The Rivals that added the word malapropism to the English language.


For a further treatment of Spoonerisms and various other ways to curse and be cursed This is my book on the subject. Enjoy.
For a further treatment of Spoonerisms and various other ways to curse and be cursed This is my book on the subject. Enjoy. | Source

More misunderstandings

Such slips of the tongue are not the only way that the English language confuses and causes misunderstandings. Sometimes the varied accents and similarities in sound can be interpreted as other than the original meaning.

Robert Bridges wrote a tract in 1913 “The present state of English pronunciation” There he tells of a colleague, a Dr. Gee who was doing his rounds at a hospital. A newly admitted patient had nothing really the matter with him so the Dr. asked for his bed-card and proscribed a diet with a placebo. After he had left the patient looked at the card and seeing the words “Ter Die” thought that he was about to be euthanized and fled the hospital. His style of English translated the phrase as “To Die” when in medical Latin it means: “Three times a day.”

Even the legal profession is not exempt from such misunderstandings. The following story was printed in the U.K. newspaper The Spectator on 12th September 1992.

“A barrister was in court on Monday morning when the Judge said “I’m afraid we’ll have to adjourn this case. I have written my judgment out, but I left it in my cottage in Devon and I can’t get it sent here until tomorrow.” The barrister, trying to be helpful, said “Fax it up, my Lord.” To which his Lordship replied, “Yes, it does rather.” The whole exchange appears to have taken place using the most judicial of tones.

The miracle of language is; that with all the possibilities for error, we still manage to communicate somehow.



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    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      7 years ago from Essex, UK

      Nice examples of people mixing up their words Peter. Trouble nowadays is that with so much street talk, phrases from youth culture and technical jargon and abbreviations, all influencing the language, I never know whether people are saying things right (in their own verbal culture) or not! Sometimes someone speaks to me and I don't know if I'm being complimented or insulted! Voted up.

      Love the conversation between the judge and the barrister. Alun.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      9 years ago from Sydney

      Just came across this Hub and was so pleased to be reminded of Spoonerisms. They were popular in comedy when I was a kid - I still remember Ronnie Barker (as Spooner) complaining about the laundry's treatment of his shirts - "Good Heavens! They've freed the slaves!" You don't see that kind of clever comedy on TV so much these days.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      I very much enjoyed this hitty Wub, my friend. Malaprops, slips of the tongue, and Spoonerisms help make life fun. Thanks for the lood gaugh.

    • meow48 profile image


      9 years ago from usa

      thankyou for answering my question, it was a very well thought out response to this humble hoosier...who really wants to use the RIGHT words so as not to insult or show ignorance... thankyou for this article it brought a smile to my face and reminded me that one must never take oneself tooo seriously.... take care.

    • attemptedhumour profile image


      9 years ago from Australia

      I wove your lighting, gits rate. Do you remember Nellie Pledge on TV? Who made a series of spoonerisms. I upped this rate.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Itakins: hello old friend. Thank you for reading and commenting. Your support is always very welcome.

    • itakins profile image


      9 years ago from Irl

      Hilarious-I really enjoyed this.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hello Sunbeams; Thank you very much for that comment. I'm so glad you were able to enjoy it with your 11 year old. Those are the kind of comments that make writing worthwhile.

    • sunbeams profile image


      9 years ago from Cairns , Australia

      Really intersting article! I read it with my 11 year old who enjoyed it too.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hello lyjo: Welcome to Hubpages. Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm looking forward to reading your work.

      Best Wishes...........Ianto

    • lyjo profile image


      9 years ago

      Very funny, and so true! Well written, thanks, take good care,

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Thank you Tony. Glad you enjoyed it, now I'll have to go and read your Hub.

      Best Wishes.......Ianto

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      A bucking frilliant read, Ianto! I love spoonerisms and wrote a Hub about them meself a while back.

      Fanks thor the guffaws!

      Love and peace


    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hello DzyMsLizzy: Thank you for inspiring me to write this Hub; Your e-mail to me got me thinking about these things and now I realize things I may have missed. Such as the origin of the word "Malapropism" Yup! I think I'll add it. :)

      Thank you so much for inspiring me.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      9 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Hey! Ianto!

      Dou Yid it! Yank Thoo for writing this one up! I knew it would be yerfect pour foo!

      One of my favorite types of malapropisms. .. Also an eponymous word from a character in a novel, I believe...a Mrs. Malaprop. ???? Or I could me bistaken.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Thank you D.A.L. I'm trying to make a collection of these "Words" Hubs. fun to do.

    • D.A.L. profile image


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      ianto, my friend once again you have produced a brilliant and humorous hub which is highly entertaining. Thank you.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Thank you Lilly. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      9 years ago from Central Oregon

      I love what you have done with these Words Hub!

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hello Eiddwen; Yes it is addicting it will lead you like a slam to the daughter.

      Diolch yn fawr unwaith eto.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      9 years ago from Wales

      This one is a gem ianto, another I'm bookmarking!! Really interesting and bo sunny!! Oh this could get so addictive! Glinkin bret!!Ha Ha. Dal ati! Ti wedi dachre fi off nawr!!One more: Is it nice weather with you there ianto? Because it's raining dats and cogs here. Fi'n mynd nawr, hob pwyl i ti!!

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Greetings drbj; I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub. I hope it was run to feed. Let's all haze our rats to William Spooner. Thank you very much for your comments and for all your support...........ianto

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Allpurposeguru; You nean you can't spew noonerisms? LOL thanks for reading and commenting and I appreciate the Pineapple of accolades.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      9 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Good Morning ScaryTaff; Glad you had a laugh. These articles are always fun to write.

      West Bishes.......ianto

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      This was a rate greed, ianto, thanks for reacquainting me with Spoonerisms.

    • allpurposeguru profile image

      David Guion 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Can't think of any new Spoonerisms off the top of my head, so let me just say that this hub is the very "pineapple" of erudition!

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      9 years ago from South Wales

      Hilarious, Ianto. I've started my day with a geal ruffaw.


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