Bible Verse of the Day

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tips of the Slung

Rear deeders, how your beds...                   Let us salute the eponymous master of the verbal somersault, the Reverend William Archibald Spooner. He left us all a legacy of laughter. He also gave the dictionary a new entry: spoonerism. The very word brings a smile. It refers, of course, to the linguistic flip-flops that turn ‘a well-oiled bicycle’ into ‘a well- boiled icicle’ and other ludicrous ways, speakers of English get their mix all talked up.
English is fertile soil for spoonerisms, because our language has more than four times as many words as any other - approx 750 000 and growing at 500 a year. Consequently, there’s a greater chance that any accidental transposition of letters or syllables will produce rhyming substitutes that still make sense - sort of. Spooner gave us ‘tinglish errors and English terrors at the same time.’
Born in 1844 in London, Spooner became an Anglican priest and a scholar. During a 60-year association with Oxford University, he lectured in history, philosophy and divinity. From 1876 to 1889 he served as a dean and from 1903 to 1924 as warden, or president. Spooner was an albino, small, with a pink face, poor eyesight and a head too large for his body. His reputation was that of a genial, kindly, hospitable man. He seems also to have been somewhat of an absent-minded professor. He once invited a faculty member to tea “to welcome our new archaeology Fellow.” “But, sir,” the man replied, “I am our new archaeology Fellow.”
“Never mind,” Spooner said, “come all the same.”
After a Sunday service he turned back to the pulpit and informed his student audience: “In the sermon I have just preached, whenever I said Aristotle, I meant St Paul.” But Spooner was no feather-brain. In fact his mind was so nimble, his tongue couldn’t keep pace. The Greeks had a word for this type of impediment long before Spooner was born: metathesis. It means the act of transposing or swapping things around. Is not spoonerism a more playful word? It means the same thing.
Reverend Spooner’s tendency to get words and sounds mixed up could happen at any time, but especially when he was agitated. He reprimanded one student for ‘fighting a liar in the quadrangle’ and another who ‘hissed my mystery lecture.’ To the latter he added in disgust, ‘You have tasted two worms.’

Patriotic fervour also excited Spooner. He raised this toast to Her Highness Victoria: ‘Three cheers for our queer old dean!’ During the First World War he reassured his students, ‘When our boys come home from France, we will have the hags flung out.’ And he lionized Britain’s farmers as ‘noble tons of soil.’
His goofs at chapel were legendary. “Our Lord is a shoving leopard,” he once intoned. He quoted I Corinthians 13:12 as, ‘For now we see through a dark, glassly…(For you lazy lot; lol – the verse actually reads: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”) Officiating at a wedding, he prompted a hesitant bridegroom, “Son, now it is kisstomary to cuss the bride.” And to a stranger seated in the wrong place: “I believe you’re occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?”

Although he might simply have been concealing a dry wit, all of the professor’s slips seem to have been accidental. So if you come across one with too much meaning, it’s probably not authentic. For instance, ‘a scoop of boy trouts’ for ‘a troop of boy scouts’ seems contrived and was probably invented by one of his students. A sign in a tavern notes: ‘Our customers enter optimistically and leave misty optically'. That’s beautiful, but it was obviously contrived. Here’s another often attributed to Dorothy Parker: ‘I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.’ That’s genius. Did Spooner really say, ‘Which of us has not felt in his heart a half-warmed fish?’ He certainly could have - he was trying to say ‘half-formed wish.’
A few more offers; (probably) authentic spoonerisms:  At a naval review Spooner marvelled at ‘this vast display of cattle ships and bruisers.’ To a school official’s secretary: ‘Is the bean dizzy?’ Visiting the country cottage of a friend: ‘You have a nosey little crook here.’
 Two years before his death in 1930 at the age of 86, Spooner told an interviewer that he could recall only one of his trademark fluffs. It was the one he made announcing the hymn “Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take,” meaning to say, “Conquering Kings.” He obviously could have made many others. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “spoonerism” began appearing in colloquial use as early as 1885, when Spooner was 41. Once when a group of students clamoured outside his window for him to make a speech, he called down: “You don’t want to hear a speech; you just want me to say one of those . . . things.”

So if you make a verbal slip, rest easy. Many have. A radio announcer once introduced the US President as Hoobert Heever. And British minister Sir Stafford Cripps was once presented as ‘Sir Stifford Craps’. Thanks to Reverend Spooner’s style-setting somersaults, our own little ‘tips of the slung’ will not be looked upon as the embarrassing babblings of a nitwit, but rather the whimsical lapses of a nimble brain.
So let us applaud that gentle man who lent his ‘tame to the nerm’. He had a habit of ‘spewing up his screech’, but this was a ‘finer malt’ and he was ‘well miked by everyone who let him.’ May ‘sod rest his goal’ lest all this just be 'a lack of pies!'

Thank You God -

in Your wisdom You created such colourful delights for us to enjoy, use and remark upon. ~ SB