spoo·​ner·​ism ˈspü-nə-ˌri-zəm How to pronounce spoonerism (audio)
: a transposition of usually initial sounds of two or more words (as in tons of soil for sons of toil)

Did you know?

What is the origin of spoonerism?

Poor William Archibald Spooner! That British clergyman and educator, who lived from 1844 to 1930, often had to speak in public, but he was a nervous man and his tongue frequently got tangled up. He would say things like "a blushing crow" when he meant "a crushing blow." Spooner's sound reversals became the stuff of legend—and undoubtedly gave his listeners many a laugh. By the end of the 19th century, his name had inspired the term spoonerism, which lives on to this day.

Examples of spoonerism in a Sentence

the spoonerism “tons of soil” for “sons of toil”
Recent Examples on the Web The Marty Peters and his spoonerism friends were great, but Delta Funk blew my socks off. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 4 Mar. 2022 So lots of books with new subtitles, good idea/bad idea, new sports, spoonerism jokes. Washington Post, 9 May 2021 That lovely tribute by Loser Brian Allgar got ink not in our spoonerism contest, but in a later limerick challenge. Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2021 This week: Write an original Q-A joke featuring a spoonerism, the transposition of the beginnings of different words, as in the entries above from our 1995 contest. Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2021 Today’s Theme Three phrases that contain words whose first letters are M and W have those letters flipped to make a spoonerism-like, punny phrase. New York Times, 6 May 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'spoonerism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


William A. Spooner †1930 English clergyman & educator

First Known Use

1892, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of spoonerism was in 1892


Dictionary Entries Near spoonerism

Cite this Entry

“Spoonerism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spoonerism. Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


spoo·​ner·​ism ˈspü-nə-ˌriz-əm How to pronounce spoonerism (audio)
: a mixing up of usually the initial sounds of two or more words (as in "tons of soil" for "sons of toil")

More from Merriam-Webster on spoonerism

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!