William Archibald Spooner


William Archibald Spooner


The Rev. W.A. Spooner was reputed to have had a dreadful habit of confusing his message in the process of giving it:

At a wedding he told the groom, “It is kistomary to cuss the bride.”

Calling on the dean of Christ Church he asked the secretary, “Is the bean dizzy?”

Giving the eulogy at a clergyman’s funeral, he praised his departed colleague as a “shoving leopard to his flock.”

In a sermon he warned his congregation, “There is no peace in a home where a dinner swells,” meaning, of course, “where a sinner dwells.”

Speaking to a group of farmers, Spooner intended to greet them as “sons of toil,” but what came out was, “I see before me tons of soil.”

Many “spoonerisms” are known to be apocryphal. Better authenticated are some of Spooner’s other comments, for example, he once said to an undergraduate he met in the quad — ‘Now let me see. Was it you or your brother who was killed in the war?’

Biographical Note: 

William Archibald Spooner was a British priest and scholar. Born in 1844 in London, Spooner became an Anglican priest and a scholar. During a 60-year association with Oxford University, he lectured in history, philosophy, and divinity. From 1876 to 1889, he served as a Dean, and from 1903 to 1924 as Warden, or president. He earned a place in history when a new word based on his name was coined — ‘spoonerism.’ The word was based on his reputation, perhaps sometimes apocryphal, for producing speech errors (unintentional departures from what he meant to say), such as “Work is the curse of the drinking classes” when he meant to say “Drink is the curse of the working classes,” “noble tons of soil” for “noble sons of toil,” “you have hissed my mystery lectures; you have tasted the whole worm” for “you have missed my history lectures; you have wasted the whole term,” and probably his most famous ‘spoonerism,’ “queer old dean” when referring to dear old Queen Victoria.