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May I have a word: Melightful distakes and other tips of the slongue

The delightful mistakes and other slips of the tongue that spoonerisms create.

When transposing the beginnings, or occasionally other parts, of two words puts a file on your smace.Lexicon Images/Adobe

Here are some answers. What was the question?

Rod Kessler, of Salem, reported: “In the morning I like to shake a tower.” Josh Simons, of Sharon, wrote: “My favorite is misted in shroudery.” And Kris Tikkanen sent along this opportune reminder: “It’s that time of year when you have to make sure your dog or cat has its flick and tea treatments.”

That’s right — we’re doing spoonerisms this time: verbal slips of the tongue that, strictly speaking, transpose the beginnings, or occasionally other parts, of two words. Less strictly speaking, they may transpose parts of words to make nonwords that are nonetheless understandable in context.


This topic put Judy Sands, of North Reading, in mind of a long-ago New York Times crossword puzzle that had “Spoonerisms” in its title. One of the clues and the answer to it, she recalled, was “He can’t spell chickadee = word botcher (bird watcher).” She added, “How often do we remember crossword clues?” And I would add, How often does a spoonerism neatly describe any person who makes spoonerisms?

What came to mind for Concord’s Barbara Duhamel was ”fack and borth afoss his crace.” It’s from “a favorite spoonerism story called ‘The Mion and the Louse,’” she explained, and is “an ongoing phrase for our family when we experience minor chaos.”

I learned about other spoonerisms, too, that have become in-jokes. Zelda Gamson shared this anecdote: “On a long car ride with friends in college, we invented a game we called Cheggars. Someone started with the (not quite legitimate) spoonerism ‘Cheggars can’t be boozers.’”

The group worked backward from there and “invented a story about Don Cheggar, who resists a temptress who tries to get him drunk. He tells her that he was raised in the Lutheran church, very strictly, very upright, and his family are all teetotalers. Don ends the story by saying. . . You guessed it. The game continues to this day with my grandchildren, who have grown up in a family that likes to invent stories.”


For no reason I can think of, that was far from the only response I received that had something to do with religion.

Normund Strautin, of Chelsea, told me: “The clever editor(s) of a seminary weekly news sheet titled it ‘Nose & Newts’ instead of (boring) ‘News & Notes.’”

Rabbi David Meyer, of Marblehead, told me: “While eulogizing the late, beloved attorney Neil Chayet, I cited a quip from his long-running radio show, ‘Looking at the Law.’ He described the burning of a shipload of illegal marijuana offshore in Puget Sound. He concluded his report like this: ‘No tern was left un-stoned!’”

And Edith Maxwell, of Amesbury, wrote: “My grandfather long ago taught me a fuller story of the spoonerism your mother liked.

“The church had a new, young usher assigned to the door who was very nervous. When an influential matron showed up late to services, he swallowed and said, ‘Mardon me, padam, but your pie is occupewed. May I sew to you another sheet, or would you like a chew in the back of the perch?’”

And Sonia Guterman, of Belmont, under a subject line referring to “Handel’s Messiah,” wrote: “As of course you know, ‘I know that my redeemeth liver’ is a great aria from this beloved oratorio.”


Everybody wins bragging rights this time. Good job, folks!

And Sonia’s spoonerism leads us into a suggestion for a challenge I received from Peggy Farren, of Quincy. She wrote: “Your request reminded me of the word mondegreen, which applies to mishearing or misinterpreting song lyrics. For example, in Taylor Swift’s song ‘Blank Space,’ people hear ‘Got a long list of ex-lovers’ as ‘All the lonely Starbucks lovers.’”

We’ve been down this road before, but mondegreens are quite a long and wide avenue, so let’s traverse it again. Send yours to me at Barbara.Wallraff@globe.com by Friday, April 28, and kindly tell me where you live. Also, please remember that meanings in search of words are always welcome.

Barbara Wallraff is a writer and editor in Cambridge.