Sometimes, our brains race ahead of our ability to communicate with human language, and words get switched around in a sentence. It is something akin to the order of letters in words being inverted, yet they are legible if the first and last letters are in place. Many such errors come from typing errors rather than ignorance of correct spelling. So it is with the spoonerism.
My wife often teases me because I often commit such errors in speech, like “Je vais mettre du poèle dans la pétrole” – I’ll put some stove in the heating fuel. The nonsense of such a sentence make make any reasoning person conclude that words had been switched.
Dr Spooner was a legend in Oxford in his day. The list of examples in the Wikipedia page doesn’t include, or dumbed down, the most outrageous, as he stood with his glass of champagne in his hand to drink to Queen Victoria’s health:
Let us glaze our arses and roast the queer old Dean, instead of Let us raise our glasses and toast the dear old Queen!
Here are the others from the Wikipedia article:
- “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” (rather than “dear old queen,” which is a reference to Queen Victoria)
- “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” (as opposed to “customary to kiss”)
- “The Lord is a shoving leopard.” (instead of “a loving shepherd”)
- “A blushing crow.” (“crushing blow”)
- “A well-boiled icicle” (“well-oiled bicycle”)
- “You were fighting a liar in the quadrangle.” (“lighting a fire”)
- “Is the bean dizzy?” (“Dean busy”)
- “Someone is occupewing my pie. Please sew me to another sheet.” (“Someone is occupying my pew. Please show me to another seat.”)
- “You have hissed all my mystery lectures. You have tasted a whole worm. Please leave Oxford on the next town drain.” (“You have missed all my history lectures. You have wasted a whole term. Please leave Oxford on the next down train.”)
Another interesting phenomenon in England is (or has been) Cockney rhyming slang, a kind of code for thieves and swindlers in the low places of the East End. Right mate, we’ll go round the Jonny Orner, down the frog, up the apples, and ‘ave a butchers at the Tower Bridge.
Jonny Orner = corner
Frog and toad = road
Apples and pears = stairs
Butcher’s hook = look