William Archibald Spooner has become famous for his real, or alleged, ‘spoonerisms’ – play on words, in which consonants, vowels are switched. Few of his spoonerisms were deliberate. Spooner admitted to uttering ‘Kinkering congs their titles take’. He bumbled his way through life, tripping over his words and giving his name to the word ‘spoonerism’ which was included in the dictionary in his own lifetime. But while Dr Spooner did have a tendency to misplace some of his words, he was certainly no bumbling idiot. He was a classical scholar, a Doctor of Divinity and the Warden of New College, Oxford.
As a tutor and a priest, he was greatly admired by his students. He was eloquent and his speeches and sermons were invariably interesting and amusing. Some of his speech lapses probably resulted from the difficulty he sometimes had in reading since, being an albino, he suffered from defective eyesight.
Many spoonerisms have been coined since Dr Spooner’s day, and it is hardly likely he rode round Oxford on his ‘well-boiled icicle’!
Spooner is said to have disliked the reputation gained for getting his words muddled. He once denounced a crowd that had gathered to hear him speak by saying, “You haven’t come for my lecture, you just want to hear one of those…things”. His attitude towards his unintentional fame softened in his final years, even granting the occasional reprint for humour’s sake, regardless of validity.
For almost seventy years he was a loved and respected in the City of Oxford and his highly esteemed opinion on university matters carried great weight.
He died on 29 August 1930, aged eighty-six, and is buried at Grasmere, Cumbria, UK.
I’m offline for the next two weeks because I’m going on holiday. See you when I come back. A Very Merry Christmas and a Nappy Hew Year to all of you.