Spoonerism – Or Just A Lack Of Pies?

by Ray Setterfield

Event Date: July 22, 1844
Location: Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

You have to feel a bit sorry for the Rev. William Archibald Spooner, who was born on this day. He became famous as the man who could never say the right thing about anyone or anything – because he was always getting his words mixed up.

For example, in a reference to Queen Victoria, he called for “three cheers for our dear old Queen.” Unfortunately, it came out as “three cheers for our queer old dean!”

He described the Heavenly Father as “a loving shepherd” – or, at least, he tried to. It came out as “the Lord is a shoving leopard!” And he once asked: “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?”

But there is little direct evidence that Spooner, who became the Warden of New College, Oxford University, ever said these things. He did admit later to one Spoonerism, as the sayings became known, which was a reference to the hymn “Conquering Kings Their Titles Take”, which he delivered as “The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take.”

It is thought that this slip of the tongue prompted students and perhaps fellow academics to make up, probably out of fun, other misquotes and attribute them to Spooner.

Examples are “It’s roaring with pain” for “it’s pouring with rain.” Or “that’s just a lack of pies” for “pack of lies”. Happily, there are those who have a “plaster man” to overcome the problem, even if they haven’t got a “master plan”.

Perhaps in defence of the hapless academic, the Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations lists only one authenticated Spoonerism – though it is not the one he admits to. Discussing the impact of “the rate of wages,” Spooner is quoted as saying: “The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer.”

Justified or not, there is no doubt that the weight of mockery will press hard upon Spooner whenever a vocal mix-up is delivered. Though a twist on the accepted Spoonerism formula can work to the speaker’s advantage, as Democrat presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson demonstrated in 1952.

Protestant preacher Norman Vincent Peale objected to Stevenson because he had divorced his wife several years earlier. To which the candidate responded: “I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”

Published: July 1, 2016

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