Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of spoonerism?

Spoonerism is trading the initial letters or sounds of two words within a phrase.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A spoonerism is a spoken error in which the speaker switches the initial sounds or letters of two or more words in a phrase. Spoonerisms are typically considered mistakes but can be made intentionally for a humorous effect.


Spoonerism was derived from William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), an Anglican clergyman and college dean. Spooner gave many public speeches, but his nervousness caused him to mistakenly switch the initial letters or sounds of words, amusing his audiences and inspiring the term “spoonerism.”


Spoonerisms alleged spoken by Spooner himself include:

  • “Blushing crow” for “crushing blow”
  • Addressing farmers as “ye tons of soil” instead of “ye sons of toil”
  • “Well-boiled icicle” for “well-oiled icicle”
  • “The Lord is a shoving leopard” instead of “The Lord is a loving shepherd”

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