spoo·​ner·​ism | \ ˈspü-nə-ˌri-zəm How to pronounce spoonerism (audio) \

Definition of spoonerism

: a transposition of usually initial sounds of two or more words (as in tons of soil for sons of toil)

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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 letter reversals became the stuff of legend-and undoubtedly gave his listeners many a laugh. By 1900 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 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, "Playing Things Low-Key," 6 May 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'spoonerism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of spoonerism

1892, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for spoonerism

William A. Spooner †1930 English clergyman & educator

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Learn More about spoonerism

Time Traveler for spoonerism

Time Traveler

The first known use of spoonerism was in 1892

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Statistics for spoonerism

Last Updated

18 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Spoonerism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spoonerism. Accessed 26 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for spoonerism


How to pronounce spoonerism (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of spoonerism

: a humorous mistake in which a speaker switches the first sounds of two or more words

More from Merriam-Webster on spoonerism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with spoonerism

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about spoonerism

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