William Archibald Spooner
William Archibald Spooner (22 July 1844 – 29 August 1930) was a long-serving Oxford don, notable for absent-mindedness, and supposedly liable to mix up the syllables in a spoken phrase, with unintentionally comic effect. Such phrases became known as spoonerisms, and are often used humorously. Many spoonerisms have been invented and attributed to Spooner.
Life and career
Spooner was born at 17 Chapel Street, Grosvenor Place, London, SW1. He was educated at Oswestry School (where he was a contemporary of Frederick Gustavus Burnaby) and New College, Oxford, where he was the first non-Wykehamist to become an undergraduate. He was ordained deacon in the Church of England in 1872 and priest in 1875. He had five children: William Wycliffe, Frances Catherine, Rosemary, Ellen Maxwell, and Agnes Mary.
Spooner remained at New College for more than sixty years, serving as fellow (1867), lecturer (1868), tutor (1869), dean (1876–1889) and warden (1903–1924). He lectured on ancient history, divinity and philosophy (especially on Aristotle's ethics).
Spooner was well liked and respected, described as "an albino, small, with a pink face, poor eyesight, and a head too large for his body". It was said that "his reputation was that of a genial, kindly, hospitable man."
Spooner has become famous for his (real or alleged) "spoonerisms", plays on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched. Few, if any, of his own spoonerisms were deliberate, and many of those attributed to him are apocryphal. Spooner is said to have disliked the reputation gained for getting his words muddled.
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edition, 1979) lists only one substantiated spoonerism: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer." In a 1930 interview, Spooner himself admitted to uttering "Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take" (Conquering Kings...) Spooner called this hymn out from the pulpit in 1879.
Many other quotations, "probable and improbable, were invented" and attributed to Spooner, including:
- "It is kisstomary to cuss the bride" (...customary to kiss the bride)
- "I am tired of addressing beery wenches" (weary benches)
- "Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?" (Pardon me, madam, this pew is occupied. Can I show you to another seat?)
- "You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain" (You have missed all my history lectures, and were caught lighting a fire in the quad. Having wasted two terms, you will leave by the next down train)
Spooner is supposed to have committed other absent-minded gaffes. He was said to have invited a don to tea, "to welcome Stanley Casson, our new archaeology Fellow". "But, sir," the man replied, "I am Stanley Casson". "Never mind," Spooner said, "Come all the same."
- The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (includes photo)[broken link]
- Obituary in the Manchester Guardian on 1 September 1930
- "From the archive, 1 September 1930: Obituary: Dr WA Spooner". The Guardian.
- Reader's Digest (February 1995); John Hanbury Angus Sparrow, Words on the Air, "Memory".
- Hayter, W. (1977). Spooner: A biography. London: W.H. Allen. (See page 135)
- "William Archbald Spooner (1844–1930) – Find a Grave Memorial". findagrave.com. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
- Fun-With-Words History
- J.A.Gere and John Sparrow (ed.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks, Oxford University Press, 1981
- Who was Dr. Spooner of "spoonerism" fame? (from The Straight Dope website)
- The 'Brief History of The College' states that Dr. Spooner 'almost certainly never uttered a 'spoonerism,' but equally certainly had a number of curious verbal traits'. (From the website of New College, where Dr. Spooner was a fellow.)