- A verbal error in which a speaker accidentally transposes the initial sounds or letters of two or more words, often to humorous effect, as in the sentence “you have hissed the mystery lectures,” accidentally spoken instead of the intended sentence “you have missed the history lectures.”
“‘Hello, goys and birls!’ was a spoonerism that sent the kindergarten class into uncontrollable giggles.”
“The best man started his speech with an unfortunate spoonerism, but he quickly recovered and gave a heartfelt tribute to the couple.”
“A spoonerism is just a slight verbal slip-up, so don’t let it derail your whole speech.”
English, early 20th century
Why this word?
A “tip of the slongue” or a “slip of the tongue” is a “spoonerism” — a very specific kind of verbal mix-up where the initial sounds or letters of words are transposed. Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), an Anglican clergyman and Oxford scholar, was reportedly so notable for this verbal error that it was named for him. It’s similar to a “malapropism,” although in that rhetorical mishap, the words sound alike, but the meanings are different. For example, in a malapropism, a dancer might invite a partner to dance a “flamingo” (instead of a “flamenco”).
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