HAPPY Birthday, one day late, to the Rev. William...

salmagundi

August 15, 1994

HAPPY Birthday, one day late, to the Rev. William Archibald Spooner, born 150 years ago yesterday. That's Spooner as in "spoonerisms," those tips of the slung -- er, slips of the tongue -- that inadvertently enliven the English language.

Surely, the Rev. Spooner was not the first person to be known for his verbal mix-ups. The phenomenon was around during the glory days of Greece. They called it metathesis, meaning to transpose or switch things around.

But the Rev. Spooner, an Anglican priest and Oxford University scholar, brought a such a whimsical quality to his transpositions that the term "spoonerism" implies more than a simple mix-up, but rather one with a humorous or clever turn of phrase, unintentional of course.

Mr. Spooner, who often seemed to be the proverbial absent-minded professor, one reprimanded a student for "fighting a liar in the quadrangle" and berated another one who "hissed my mystery lecture," adding in disgust, "You have tasted two worms."

A birthday tribute by the Associated Press recalled the above examples, as well as the memorable toast to Her Highness, Queen Victoria: "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" And this: During World War I he reassured his students, "When our boys come home from France we will have the hags flung out."

Chapel inspired some legendary spoonerisms. "Yes," he once intoned, "Our Lord is a shoving leopard." He quoted 1 Corinthians as, "Now we see through a dark, glassly. . . ."

Imagine the bridegroom at a wedding ceremony, when the Rev. Spooner said to him: "Son, now it is kisstomary to cuss the bride."

But our all-time favorite in this defense of his sobriety: "My wife says I've had tee many martoonis and am under the affluence of incohol, but I'm not as drunk as some thinkle peep . . . I mean PINKLE THEEP!"

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