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Spoonerisms: Tongue-tied Tales and Fables

What's a spoonerism, you might ask?

If you were to rephrase that question as "sput's a woonerism?" it would be obvious you're already familiar with these phonetic manglings nicknamed after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), who had a knack for turning the English language on its ear.

Simply put, a spoonerism is the swapping of the first letter or phonetic sound of one word with the next word or one a few words away. Some supposedly authentic spoonerisms from Spooner himself include "fighting a liar" for "lighting a fire," "cattle ships and bruisers" for "battleships and cruisers" and "a blushing crow" for "a crushing blow." These fun reworks have been heard for years but unless you had somehow stumbled across information about the good reverend, you probably had no idea where they came from.

Beeping Sleauty

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You Have to Hear Spoonerisms to Believe Them

To get the feel for just exactly how mangled spoonerisms can be, it helps to hear them, at least at first. The human brain needs a little time to undo all its teachings and actually understand a spoonerized world. That's why I've included videos of two spoonerized tales. I hope you enjoy them!

The first is Rindercella, starring cartoon character Betty Boop and told by Archie Campbell. (Prinderella is another spoonerized form of the title that some people use.) Sorry, that video was removed from YouTube by its creator.

The second is Beeping Sleauty, as told by storyteller Leslie Slape.

After you watch the videos, you can read a book review of Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok by Keen James. The book updates the "work" of '30s and '40s radio comedian F[rederick] Chase Taylor, who performed under the name Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle and raised spoonerism to high art.

Book Review of "Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok"

From time to time there appears a little book that so charms readers, it deserves a place on everyone's bookshelf. Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok by Keen James is one of those books. As a bonus, beyond the delight of discovering fables and old tales retold by playing with words, there is some interesting information.

The book has its own history. In the 1930s and 1940s, F[rederick] Chase Taylor, a radio comedian, performed under the name Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle. He was a master at playing with language, turning clichés on their heads and sentences inside-out, creating "daffynitions," inventing a 20-foot pole for reaching whatever you wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, and to the delight of countless listeners and readers, retelling classic tales and fables in spoonerized form. Cinderella became Prinderella and the Since, Sleeping Beauty became Beeping Sleauty, The Three Little Pigs became The Pea Little Thrigs, The Boy who Cried "Wolf" became The Woy Who Cried: "Boolf!"

Delight with the tales sprang from Stoopnagle's masterful selection of words and phrases that are funny in themselves and funnier when spoonerized. For a quick demonstration, read aloud these few words as written: Prinderella "had to do all the other chasty nores, while her soamly histers went to a drancy bess fall. Wasn't that a shirty dame?" Now, speak the words in normal forms and then play with the difference.

In 1945, Stoopnagle published his spoonerized stories under the title My Tale Is Twisted, adding other nonsense such as books to be written, including Trulliver's Gavels and An Airwell to Farms. Stoopnagle's 1945 book went out of print.

Fifty or so years later, Keen James of Rhode Island found that he and his eight-year-old daughter could have much fun with the tales. It then became "a labor of love" to update references that would be unfamiliar to today's readers and to add intriguing and useful information about Rev. Spooner (whose name gave us spoonerism), about Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle who demonstrated that "people have more fun than anybody," and about spoonerisms as art and craft. That became Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted.

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Across the years, people have recited the tales at all kinds of gatherings. Listeners may never have learned anything about the original book or, now, the present version, but the tales still delight. A recitation can enliven any social gathering. Passing the book around and having each person give a cold reading of a tale is sure to produce laughter, with fumblings and stumblings simply adding to the fun. Reading one or two tales after a busy day can clear the mind.

An added distinction for the book is that it could be a gift for anyone (from eight to eighty as we like to say). Almost anyone can find at least some small pleasure in the book, and it cannot give offense to anyone.

A quotation from the book reflects the point:

My tength is the tength of stren because my part is hure.

-Gallyson in Sir Tenehad

The illustrations at the top of this review are from Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok.


Carla Chadwick (author) from Georgia on June 28, 2010:

Thanks for that interesting historical tidbit! :-)

adorababy from Syracuse, NY on June 28, 2010:

While spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue, they can also be used intentionally as a play on words. Before Spooner's association with the phenomenon, it was mostly associated with underclass individuals.

Carla Chadwick (author) from Georgia on October 02, 2008:

Thanks, William!

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on October 02, 2008:

Thanks for a great hub, WordPlay. Spoonerisms are lot of fun. I always loved to hear Colonel Stoopnagle on the old Allen's Alley radio shows. He was often a guest and part of the "Alley" of comics that Fred Allen questioned during his routine. In the event that your readers don't know about Allen's Alley and Col. Stoopnagle, I'm just passing along two sites that I'm sure will interest your readers:

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