Spun with Foonerisms
Lard chips are mind-explodingly good.
They’re not actually marketed as lard chips, but Good’s Potato Chips aren’t cooked in soybean oil or partially-hydrogenated anything. They’re literally cooked in lard, which I’m sure is what makes them the best potato chips on the planet.
What’s this have to do with language? Well, lard chips were pretty much omnipresent in my college apartment. And my friends and I had a little game of swapping the sounds between two words to see if it would make new, funnier words.
It was inevitable that we transposed the initial sounds of “lard chips” to get “charred lips.” And that just tickled my linguistic funny bone.
That silliness has a name?
Spoonerisms, technically called metathesis, are basically when you mix up sounds in your speech. This includes transposing the initial sounds in two words (charred lips), but it’s also metathesis when sounds within a word get flip-flopped (saying revelant for relevant, for example).
Spoonerisms were named for the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who lived in Oxford early in the 20th century and supposedly had a tendency to swap sounds between words, often comically. One of the most famous examples attributed to the good Rev is “A toast to our queer old dean!” meaning “our dear old queen.”
While accidental slips of the tongue can be pretty funny, people also use spoonerisms intentionally. One of my favorite examples is: “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
I’d have to agree with Dorothy Parker there, and also raise said bottle in toast for such a sharp spoonerism.
While spoonerisms often happen randomly and are quickly caught by the speaker, they can also be more tenacious. A lot of people don’t recognize what they’re saying as a spoonerism, and the switched pronunciation can work itself into repetitive speech patterns.
Know anyone who says:
- ax for ask?
- foilage for foliage?
- nucular for nuclear?
- purdy for pretty?
Or how about a little kid saying p’sketti for spaghetti?
Most of the one-word metatheses simply appear to be lazy speaking, and well they might be. But lazy speaking isn’t anything new, and much of our common pronunciation can be explained by our ancestors’ laziness.
Bird isn’t really the word.
Ever wonder why the word iron isn’t pronounced eye-ron? At one time it was, but then a repetitive spoonerism eventually turned eye-urn into the accepted norm.
And if you think ax sounds bad for ask? In Chaucer’s time, both were accepted pronunciations. In the Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale, he writes “I axe” meaning “I ask.” Over time, ax fell out of favor and was replaced with ask.
Or look up the etymology of bird. In Middle English, it was pronounced brid, and somewhere around a thousand years ago, people mixed up the i and the r sounds and gave us the pronunciation we have today.
You see, spoonerisms aren’t just fun. They also help form our ever-changing language.
So if you’re looking for some cheap giggles, just watch out for things you can spoonerize. I don’t know about you, but I’m filled with childish glee every time I see a gas-station Food Mart.
photo by Daquella manera.
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