The Reverend William A. Spooner (1844-1930), an Anglican clergyman, had a habit of transposing the initial sounds of words, forming a ludicrous combination. Whether his slips of tongue were accidental or simply the result of absentmindedness has never been determined. His position in life as dean and later warden of New College, Oxford, would seem to have called for simple and direct dialogue with no tongue twisters.
Spooner’s students so enjoyed hearing his transposition of the initial sounds of words that they made up some combinations themselves for their own amusement — for example, «Is the bean dizzy?» for «Is the dean busy?» — but they could never surpass those attributed to their master. When he preached, he carried with him his lapses of speech. On one occasion he said to a person who had come to pray, «Aren’t you occupewing the wrong pie?» for «occupying the wrong pew». When the startled parishioner looked at him ungraspingly, he continued with, «Were you sewn into this sheet?» for «shown into this seat». Possibly the funniest mistake of his twisted tongue was at the end of a wedding ceremony when the bashful groom simply stood there. Spooner intoned, «It’s kisstomary to cuss the bride».
The technical name for this form of twisting words is metathesis, but better known is the nontechnical name spoonerism.
Some of Spooner’s phrases that are used as examples are «a well- boiled icicle» for «a well-oiled bicycle»; «our shoving leopard» for «our loving shepherd»; «a half-warmed fish» for «a half-formed wish». One of his most repeated transpositions is «Kinquering congs their titles take» for «Conquering kings their titles take». And he is supposed to have made a toast to the dear old queen by saying, «Let us now drink to the queer old dean».
Spooner closed his academic life in an appropriate style. When, because of age, he was forced into retirement, he remarked, «It came as a blushing crow», instead of a «crushing blow».