Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Take with a Grin of Salt

The headline stopped me short in my perusal of the daily newspaper: “Activist helped mold enclave.

I conjured up an image of a dedicated, enthusiastic supporter of enclaves of mold colonies, protecting their rights to exist and spread their unhealthy sliminess over other areas.

Of course, in this case, “mold” was used as a verb, and the activist’s goal was to establish a plan to improve the community.

The vocabulary, structure and idioms of English certainly lend themselves to misinterpretations, often humorous.

“Take with a grin of salt” was some of Yogi Berra’s advice. Of course, he also claimed, “I didn’t really say everything I said.”

Spooner as caricatured
by Spy (Leslie Ward)
 inVanity Fair, April 1898
Spoonerisms, or “tips of the slung” as they are sometimes called, are named for Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford. He had albinism and nearly blind, and he was prone to transpose syllables, giving his pronouncements new meanings. The only one to which he admitted was when announcing a hymn, he called for The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take” (Instead of Conquering Kings.) However, popular lore attributes many more to him, including the infamous statement to a woman who had taken his place in church, "Mardon me padom, you are occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?" ("Pardon me madam, you are occupying my pew. May I show you to another seat?and "The Lord is a shoving leopard” (The Lord is a loving shepherd.) At a wedding, he stated, "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride" (customary to kiss the bride.)

About returning troops, he said, “When our boys come home from France, we will have the hags flung out.”

Also, "I have in my bosom a half-warmed fish" (for half-formed wish), supposedly said in a speech to Queen Victoria.

He was also credited with saying, "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") but that’s doubtful. ("Names make news". Time. 1928-10-29. Retrieved2008-09-20.)

Charles H. Workman, a contemporary to Rev. Spooner, was subject to such misstatements on stage when
Charles H. Workman
"The only part of him which
 gets tired is his tongue, and
occasionally the oft-repeated lines
have got muddled.
'Self-constricted ruddles',
 'his striggles were terruffic',
and 'deloberately rib me'
are a few of the spoonerisms
he has perpetrated."
Caption to picture Vanity Fair
1910 caricature.
he got tired. He often performed in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, where the errors seem somehow appropriate.

An unfortunate bakery ad proclaimed it had "the breast bed and rolls you ever tasted.”

A television announcer once saying that "All the world was thrilled by the marriage of the Duck and Doochess of Windsor.” (Simonini, R. C. [December 1956]. "Phonemic and Analogic Lapses in Radio and Television Speech")

Supposedly CBC once had an announcer who identified them as  "the Canadian Broadcorping Castration,” a term which has become popular with critics.

Some performers have used deliberate spoonerisms. Capitol Steps, a Washington, D.C. group, which specializes in political satire, referred to President Reagan as the Resident Pagan.

Archie Campbell, of Hee Haw fame, often told the story of RinderCella - a girl who slopped her dripper.

Can you think of any spoonerisms or other hilarious misstatements?


  1. I love Spoonerisms, when committed by someone else. Totally different story when my own tongue gets tied up like that!

  2. LOL - so someone who occasionally engages mouth in advance of brain, this is hysterical. Fun post.

  3. I had a work buddy who used to collected malapropisms spoken by other employees and clients of ours. Then at the Christmas party (after some libation time) he would regale us with a choice selection, blessedly without attribution.

    ~ Jim

  4. My niece is famous for them, even when she was a little girl. Bunk beds were "Bonk beds" which fits, since one bonks their head on the upper bunk. And when she was an acolyte at church she was excited to be the "Crucifier" rather than "Crucifer."

  5. Julie, you're right. They're much funnier when someone else says them. Sometimes it takes months (or years) before you can see the humor in your own statements.

    Kait, "brain in gear, mouth in neutral" is a well-known phenomena.

    Jim, that sounds like fun! Could people usually tell who said what?

    Carla, most families have at least one member who's inclined to make hash of the language. Just so no one makes your niece feel bad for them.

  6. Hilarious on the day of the first primary. I wish I had some killer spoonerisms for the candidates in New Hampshire. Wishing it were November 9th and we could all move forward, instead of enduring nine more months of the campaign.


  7. Kathleen, I love hearing them and reading about them, but not so much when I accidentally make one. My youngest daughter used to call those amphibians we know as toads or frogs, froads, when she was little. Fun blog!

  8. Oh, these are a hoot. My most recent favorite was in a bodice-ripper romance. The typo said the hero was a victim of his won ton love for the heroine. Visions of Chinese food danced in my head. Not the effect the writer was going for.

  9. You're right, Margaret. I think it's going to be a long 9 months.

    Gloria, we all get our tang tonguled once in a while, and it's often a bit embarrassing.

    Shari, those unintended typos can conjure up all kind of images.