9 Spoonerisms (and Other Twists of the Tongue)

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iStock

You know how sometimes when you're talking, your mouth is moving faster than your brain and you inevitably transpose the beginning parts of a couple of words? You might be trying to say, "You have a cozy little nook here," but what comes out is, "You have a nosy little cook here." Well, there's a word for that: It's called a Spoonerism.

They're named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who was apparently notorious for his accidental wordplay. He would only ever admit to one of them, but there have been some pretty famous and entertaining Spoonerisms over the years; here are just a few of them.

1. RUNNY BABBIT

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook was the last children's book written by Shel Silverstein and, as the title indicates, the book is crammed full with Spoonerisms: "Runny Babbit lent to wunch and heard the saitress way, 'We have some lovely stabbit rew, our special for today.'"

2. HOOBERT HEEVER


Herbert Hoover is kind of a funny name to begin with: Try saying his name 20 times without messing it up at least once. While it's all fun and games to most of us, it can be a career-threatening mistake when you're a radio announcer. Harry von Zell was talking about Hoover's life and times as part of a birthday tribute. After making it through a pretty lengthy script, Zell's tongue could take no more and he accidentally referred to the President as "Hoobert Heever."

"Fortunately the windows were not operative," von Zell later said. "They were fixed windows or I would have jumped out." For the record, von Zell's career was just fine. And technically, this is a "kniferism," not a Spoonerism, since it reverses the middle syllables of the words instead of the beginning sounds.

3. STIFFORD CRAPPS

BBC announcer McDonald Hobley ran into the same problem as Harry von Zell: a politician with a tongue-twister of a name. At the time, Sir Stafford Cripps was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Imagine the embarrassment when Hobley introduced him as "Stifford Crapps."

4. DON'T PET THE SWEATY THINGS

George Carlin fans are probably familiar with his quip, "Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things." (It's sound advice, really.)

5. KINKERING KONGS THEIR TITLES TAKE

Many Spoonerisms have been attributed to Reverend Spooner, but the only one he would admit to was this one, which confused the title of a popular hymn: "Kinkering Kongs Their Titles Take." That should be, "Conquering Kings Their Titles Take."

6. APOSTLE PEALE


Norman Vincent Peale was a Protestant preacher who was quite vocal about his dislike for Adlai Stevenson. In response, Stevenson intentionally used a Spoonerism in a speech once, saying: "Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling."

7. RINDERCELLA

Archie Campbell, a writer and the star of the long-running variety show Hee Haw, loved to use Spoonerisms in skits on the show. One of the most famous ones was Campbell's telling of RinderCella: a girl who slopped her dripper, of course. There was also Beeping Sleauty.

8. BASS-ACKWARDS

Abraham Lincoln was quite fond of wordplay. He once wrote in a letter, "He said he was riding bass-ackwards on a jass-ack through a patton-crotch," (though we don't know whether Lincoln came up with that himself or was actually quoting someone).

9. THE CANADIAN BROADCORPING CASTRATION

This one is somewhat of an urban legend. It's never been recorded except on a record album called Pardon My Blooper, but it was recreated for the album and not recorded from the original alleged mishap. True or not, the joke that someone once said live on the air that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was "the Canadian Broadcorping Castration" struck a chord with people; the poor CBC is sometimes still referred to as such.

15 Animal Names That Can Be Used As Verbs

iStock.com/fotojagodka
iStock.com/fotojagodka

People can go fishing, rabbit on incessantly, dog one another, and horse around. But because of their usefulness in completing burdensome work, horse has also been used in (originally naval) slang since the mid-19th century to mean “to work to the point of exhaustion”—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to drive or urge at work unfairly or tyrannically.” But horses aren’t the only animals whose names can be “verbed.” From turtles to tigers, you can drop any one of these 15 creatures into your everyday conversation.

1. Bulldog

No one is entirely sure why bulldogs are called bulldogs, with different theories pointing to everything from their bull-like stature to their bullish faces to the fact that they might once have been bred to bait bulls. Whatever the origin, the bulldog’s strength and its robust, resilient behavior means that you can use its name as a verb meaning “to attack roughly,” or “to wrestle to the ground.”

2. Tiger

A tiger
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If you tiger, then you walk to and fro, like a tiger pacing in a cage. If you tiger something, then you paint or mark it with contrasting stripes.

3. Spider

Jumping spider
iStock.com/elthar2007

As well as being used simply to mean “to creep” or “to move like a spider,” if you ensnare or entrap something, or else cover it in a cobweb-like pattern, then you spider it.

4. Cat

British shorthair cat with expressive orange eyes
iStock.com/Leesle

Because the cathead is the horizontal beam at the bow of a ship that’s used to raise an anchor, the word cat has a number of nautical uses as a verb, including “to lift an anchor from the water,” “to secure an anchor,” and “to draw an anchor through the water.” But because shooting the cat was 19th century slang for being sick from drinking too much, you can also use cat to mean “to vomit.”

5. Vulture

White-backed vulture
iStock.com/EcoPic

Vultures’ grim feeding habits and their remarkable flying ability have given the word two meanings as a verb in English. Feel free to use it to mean “to eat voraciously” or “to tear at your food,” or else “to descend steadily through the air.”

6. Owl

Owl in flight
iStock.com/WhitcombeRD

Owling (as well as being a short-lived social media craze) was once the name given to the crime of smuggling sheep and wool from England to the continent—a crime so-called because the nefarious “owlers” carried out their crimes at night. That might not be the most useful of words these days of course, so feel free to also use owl to mean “to act wisely, despite not knowing anything.”

7. Shark

It’s easy to presume that the use of shark as a verb to mean “to act like a predator” (which is the same shark as in loanshark, incidentally) derives from the deadly sea creatures. In fact, it might be the opposite: Both meanings of the word shark date back to the late 16th century, but it’s possible that the verb shark is the older of the two. If so, it’s possible that it comes from the earlier word shirk (in the sense of using deceit or trickery to avoid work) or else a northeastern French word, cherquier, which was often used in a phrase that essentially meant “to sponge of others” or “to act as a parasite.” So how did sea-dwelling sharks come to be called sharks? It’s possible the deceitful sharks gave their name to the menacing creatures, or else the two could be completely unrelated—and, thanks to a sea battle off the Yucatan peninsula in 1569, shark could in fact be a Mayan word.

8. Monkey

Chimpanzee looking surprised
iStock.com/photomaru

As well as meaning “to play the fool” or “to behave playfully”—as in “monkeying around”—monkey, like ape, can also be used to mean “to mimic” or “to copy someone’s movements or actions.”

9. Turtle

If a boat “turns turtle,” then it capsizes and flips over, so that it looks like a turtle’s domed shell floating atop the water. Because of that, to turtle something is to turn it upside down.

10. Snail

Burgundy snail
iStock.com/AlexRaths

For obvious reasons, snail has been used to mean “to move slowly” since the late 16th century, but because of the snail’s coiled shell, you can also use snail to mean “to draw or carve a spiral,” or “to roll into a spiral shape.”

11. Porcupine

Porcupine walking
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When your hair stands on end, feel free to say that it porcupined.

12. Canary

Canary birds take their name from the Canary Islands, which, somewhat confusingly, take their name from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” But in the 16th and 17th centuries, the canary was also the name of an energetic dance inspired by a traditional dance performed by the natives of the Canary Islands. And because of that, you can also use the word canary as a verb meaning “to dance in a lively fashion.”

13. Earwig

Earwig
iStock.com/Mr_Fu

Earwigs are so-called because they were once (thankfully erroneously) thought to crawl inside people’s ears as they slept. Through association with someone whispering clandestinely into someone’s ear, in the late 18th century eavesdroppers and people who seeked to secretly influence others became known as earwiggers—and so to earwig is to do precisely that.

14. Pig

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot
iStock.com/Fotosmurf03

Pig has been used to mean “to give birth” since as far back as the 15th century in English (a fairly uncomplimentary allusion to a pregnant sow delivering a litter of piglets). But slightly less depreciatively, the living habits of pigs mean that it can also be used to mean “to huddle together,” or else “to live or sleep in crowded or dirty conditions.”

15. Dingo

A dingo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Because of their stereotypically sneaky behavior, to dingo on someone meant “to let down” or “to betray” them in 1930s Australian slang, while to dingo meant simply “to shirk” or “to back out of something at the last minute.”

This list first ran in 2016.

New Harry Potter Scrabble Accepts Wizarding Words Like Hogwarts and Dobby

USAopoly
USAopoly

Patronus, Hogwarts, and Dobby may not be words found in the official Scrabble dictionary, but they are very real to Harry Potter fans. Now there's finally a board game that lets players win points using the magical vocabulary made famous by the Harry Potter books and movies. SCRABBLE: World of Harry Potter from USAopoly is a new edition of Scrabble that recognizes characters, place names, spells, and potions from J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World.

Like traditional Scrabble, players use the letter tiles they pick up to spell out words on the board, with different words earning different point values. Any word you can find in an up-to-date Merriam-Webster Dictionary is still fair game, but in this version, terms coined in Harry Potter qualify as well. First and last names, whether they belong to characters (Albus or Dumbledore, for example) or actors from the franchise (Emma or Watson), are playable. You can also spell magical place names (like Hogsmeade), spells (accio), and objects (snitch).

Harry Potter version of Scrabble.
USAopoly

Showing off the depth of your Harry Potter knowledge isn't the only reason to put wizarding words on the board. Magical words are worth bonus points, with players earning more points the longer the word is. SCRABBLE: World of Harry Potter also includes cards with special challenges for players—a feature that can't be found in any other version of the game.

This Harry Potter edition of Scrabble will be available for $30 at Barnes & Noble and other retailers this spring. Until then, there are plenty of Harry Potter-themed games, including wizarding chess, out there for you to play.

Harry Potter version of Scrabble.
USAopoly

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