If you’re a writer looking to work lighthearted wordplay into your fiction, prose, poetry, or song lyrics, you might give spoonerisms a whirl. In this post, we’ll explain what a spoonerism is, give some examples, and explore the possibilities for their use in your writing.
What Are Spoonerisms?
A spoonerism occurs in speech or writing when letters or syllables are swapped between words in a phrase. The swapping of sounds could be unintentional or purposeful. For example,
That young man is wearing his pants bass-ackwards!
Spoonerisms were named after Oxford professor and ordained minister William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), who reputedly mixed up his sounds often. Examples include the time Spooner referred to the hymn “Conquering Kings Their Titles Take” from the pulpitas:
“Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take.”
Perhaps you’ve experienced similar slips of the tongue? After all, it’s easy for words to become scrambled when our brains are working faster than our mouths.
Because spoonerisms are so unexpected, they may cause some mild embarrassment for the speaker or provoke peals of surprised laughter from an audience. Putting that unexpected quality to good use, spoonerisms in writing are fresh opportunities to sneak in some wordplay.
Spoonerisms in Literature
Shel Silverstein’s Runny Rabbit: A Billy Sook is a collection of kids’ poems based on spoonerisms. Here’s one titled “The Kungle Jing”:
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“Oh I am the Jing of the Kungle,”
Runny roared to one and all
When he wore his cion’s lostume
To the Walloheen bostume call.
But there he met a leal rion
Who said, “You’d best cake tare,
And do not start believin’
You’re the costume that you wear.”
Part of the pleasure of reading these poems is decoding the language. With spoonerisms, writers may offer their readers an opportunity to smile, laugh, or feel that smug satisfaction of cracking a small code.
Spoonerisms Are Everywhere
Spoonerisms pop up in literature, music, and any written or spoken text. Political discourse is a natural opportunity for spoonerisms. The long-running Washington, DC political sketch comedy group Capitol Steps had a popular routine called “Lirty Dies” with the slogan “Just whip your flurds.” In a humorous way, it plays on the notion of people not entirely trusting what they’re hearing (or knowing what they’re saying) when it comes to politics.
Proofreading and Editing
Now that you know more about spoonerisms, you’ll likely notice them more. Whether your aim is to write a poem that makes a child laugh, to add an interesting detail to a mystery plot, or design a t-shirt with a subversive or funny message, spoonerisms give you options for wordplay.
So, have some fun by creatively switching the consonants, vowels, or even syllables of words in phrases. And if you’d like to have your wordplay reviewed by one of our professional editors, we can help. Submit a free sample today.