9 Spoonerisms (and Other Twists of the Tongue)

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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.

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

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iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members

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iStock.com/kali9

The words we use for family members in English are specific about some things, and vague about others. Our vocabulary marks a distinction between our mother and her sisters (some languages use one word for mother and maternal aunts), but doesn't say whether siblings are older or younger (some languages have different words for brother and sister depending on their age relative to you). We lack words that pick out particular family members (we have cousin, but what about child-of-my-father's-brother?) as well as certain general terms (we have siblings for brothers-and-sisters, but what about nieces-and-nephews?)

If you look hard enough, you can find some words to help fill in the gaps. Here are 11 unusual English kinship words for family members.

1. Patruel

This one means "child of your paternal uncle." Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn't gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, "Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king."

2. Avuncle

Your mother's brother. Latin distinguished between patruus, father's brother, and avunculus, mother's brother. (There was also amita, father's sister, and matertera, mother's sister.) It's the root of the word avuncular, meaning "having to do with uncles" or "uncle-like" (i.e., kind and friendly, like an uncle). You won't find the word avuncle in the dictionary, but it has been used in anthropology texts and in papers concerning royal matters.

3. Niblings

Your nieces and nephews. You won't find this in the dictionary either, but use of this term seems to be growing among favorite aunts and uncles who want an easy way to refer to their little bundles of sibling-provided joy in a collective or gender-neutral way.

4. Fadu

Your father's sister. Latin amita covers this relationship, but we don't have to reach that far back to find an English equivalent. Old English made a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal. We lost all that when we borrowed the more general aunt and uncle from French.

5. Modrige

"Your mother's sister," from Old English.

6. Fœdra

"Your father's brother," from Old English.

7. Eam

Your mother's brother. It survived in some dialects as eme, with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

8. Brother-uterine

Your half-brother from the same mother. This is a term used in old legal documents or other discussions of inheritance and succession. Half-siblings of the same mother are uterine and of the same father are consanguine.

9. Brother-german

Full brother, sharing both parents. Nothing to do with Germany. The german here is related to germane, which originally meant "of the same parents" and later came to mean just related or relevant.

10. Double cousin

Full first cousin, sharing all four grandparents. This comes about when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, among other circumstances.

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child's spouse. Your child's in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

This story was republished in 2019.

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