Tag Archives: Spoonerism

On Grammar, Eloquence, and Thematic Cohesion

Story of the Day for Tuesday January 10, 2012

On Grammar, Eloquence, and Thematic Cohesion

                  We don’t know what we ought to be praying about, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us . . . And he who searches hearts knows the thoughts of the Spirit.

                                                                                             Romans 8:26-27

The Reverend William Archibald Spooner was both a kindly Anglican priest and a brilliant professor at New College, Oxford. But, he achieved fame through his slips of the tongue.

Once, he delivered a sermon to the students and sat down. Apparently someone whispered something to him because he walked back up to the pulpit and announced, “In the sermon I just preached, whenever I said Aristotle, I meant St. Paul.”

Dr. Spooner’s superb scholarship, sadly, has been overshadowed by his tendency to scramble words. Through his unintentional efforts, the term “Spoonerism” has worked its way into our present dictionaries. For example, he called the “rate of wages” the “weight of rages,” and “conquering kings,” “kinkering congs.”

Soon, this tendency was noticed by the students, and they waited eagerly for his next slip of the tongue. At the height of his notoriety, Spooner lamented, “You don’t want to hear a speech; you just want me to say one of those . . . things.” Don Hauptman, in his book, Cruel and Unusual Puns, says “the craze spread like filed wire – er, wildfire.”

The enthusiasm to record the latest Spoonerism soon made it difficult to separate his original sayings from those attributed to him.

The professor, it is said, proposed a toast to Her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria: “Three cheers for our queer old dean.” At a naval review he is said to have praised “this vast display of cattle ships and bruisers.” Officiating at a wedding, he concluded by informing the groom, “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.”


Once the kindly reverend showed us the way, everyone wanted to get in on the act. Radio announcer, Harry Von Zell, gave tribute to the president of the United States by addressing him as “Hoobert Heever.” This only inspired Lowell Thomas to introduce the British minister, Sir Stafford Cripps as “Sir Stifford Crapps.” The British then solidified the eminence of their native son, the Rev. Spooner, when an announcer proclaimed the military would give their honored royal guest a “twenty-one son galoo.”


With all this glorious imperfection surrounding us, it still baffles me that some are reluctant to pray publicly because they don’t think they’ll say the right words – as if God is going to grade them on grammar, eloquence, and thematic cohesion.

But, our situation is far worse than not knowing the right words; most of the time we don’t even know the right topic. Let’s face it: we’re not all that great at informing the Creator of All Things about the best way to run the universe.

Nevertheless, the Lord tells us he wants us to pray and he is ready to listen. And, even when, in our pain and confusion, we can only look to heaven and moan, God assures us the Spirit can interpret our hearts, and send our prayers on their way . . . despite our garbled thoughts and tips of the slung.

                                            (copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)