A spoonerism is an error in speech. In a spoonerism, the speaker swaps the initial consonant of one word with the initial consonant of another word.
Spoonerisms take their name from an Oxford academic, Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930). Perhaps the best known spoonerism is one often attributed to Spooner himself, though possibly apocryphally. At a dinner, he proposed a toast to ‘the queer old Dean’, instead of to the ‘dear old Queen’.
Spoonerisms swap sounds, not just letters
I recently saw an example emphasising that spoonerisms are permutations of sounds, not permutation of individual letters used to write sounds. This example was ‘took shape’ as a spoonerism for ‘shook tape’. The initial consonant /t/ of took is swapped with the initial /ʃ/ of shape, where /ʃ/ is written with the digraph (two letter symbol) <sh>.
Said differently, spoonerisms swap sounds. They don’t swap letters (or lop sweaters).
The place where I saw this spoonerism was in a crossword in The Times. The clue was ‘Came together and did rock record for Spooner’. This clue has 3 components:
- ‘came together’ is the meaning of the answer (‘took shape’)
- ‘did rock record’ points to the phrase ‘shook tape’.
- ‘for Spooner’ is an instruction to convert ‘shook tape’ into a spoonerism (‘took shape’)
The crossword in the Times has been running every day (except Sundays) for many decades. This clue was in puzzle 28,730, published on 10 October 2023.