I can’t resist a spoonerism, the exchange of letters or syllables between words to create a comically inappropriate outcome. The linguistic device was named after Oxford don William Spooner (1844-1930), a tongue-tied, easily-flustered eccentric who blundered sublimely into lines like “the Lord is a shoving leopard” and “let us raise our glasses to the queer old dean.” I always try to sprinkle them unsignalled throughout my writing to amuse and appal readers who manage to spot them.
Spoonerisms appeal to the naughty, subversive boy in me, that nervous but disobedient child who was always drawn to transgression (at 10 I had an uncontrollable giggling fit during confirmation by the Bishop of Monmouth; at 22 I wept tears of laughter in front of the municipal registrar at my own wedding ceremony; and even as recently as age 45 I couldn’t stop myself grinning disastrously when a friend told me his wife had died in a tragic accident – if it’s ‘not done’ I feel strangely compelled to do it). So deliberate spoonerisms are right up the street of a tendentious prat such as myself: they guarantee an easy, infantile laugh – but they also have a throwaway sophistication in their sassy toying with Freudian Slips and their deadpan nod in the direction of deeper truths.
Comics have long reversed Dr Spooner’s process, so that the ‘mistake’ is implied rather than overt: pheasant plucker and cunning stunt being the best known. During idle moments I like to concoct more; crude formulations such as coarse hunt, tweedy rat, louche dad, night tipple, shambling git, quench beer, bent vowels, sea shells, rugger ball, wicked prank, sharp wit, placid folk, livid vicar, picky queue, gory term, terse word, cavernous runt, waging rancour, phoney palace, braised pollock, arid horse, stretched wench, Shirley Bassey, Peggy Lee, Thora Hird, Friar Tuck, Brenda Blethyn, Builth fruit, corn bunting, fun nanny, busty mum, bad mustard, fear species, doubt terrier, spy trunk, bare spatula, furred heart, shabby critter, thirty dongs, goofy pay, concrete extent, reverse dictum, produce institution, paediatric gerontophile, avoid haemorrhage, obstreperous preposition…phew! Jesus!…enough! See the potential? In my new book I’ve gone for more complex and tasteful constructs hidden away for the alert to discover, making use of spoonerised dipthongs and suffixes as well as half-spoonerisms that the reader’s own dirty mind is required to complete. Hopefully the publisher will let a few through, even if they are only laconic platitudes.