Category Archives: William A. Spooner

Spoonerism: You Have Hissed All My Mystery Lectures

William A. Spooner? Apocryphal?

spooner10Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest reproach aimed at a student that I have ever heard was spoken by Reverend William A. Spooner who was the Warden of New College, Oxford. The clergyman was famous for jumbling the letters and sounds of words when he spoke. His castigation of the student began with this curious remark:

You have hissed all my mystery lectures.

Unscrambling the statement revealed its meaning:

You have missed all my history lectures.

I know that most spoonerisms were never actually spoken by Spooner. Would you please explore the provenance of the short speech that began with the line above?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match for the phrase above found by QI was printed in “The Strand Magazine” in an article titled “Spooneriana” by A. T. Corke in 1911. Spooner lived from 1844 to 1930. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

But the apotheosis of his vagaries is reached in this stern reprimand to an erring and, let us hope, repentant undergraduate: “Sir, your conduct has been nothing less than disgraceful; you have hissed three of my mystery lectures, you have been convicted of fighting a liar in the inner quad, and in addition, there is no doubt whatever in my own mind that you have tasted a whole worm!”

The text without the swapped elements would read as follows:

Sir, your conduct has been nothing less than disgraceful; you have missed three of my history lectures, you have been convicted of lighting a fire in the inner quad, and in addition, there is no doubt whatever in my own mind that you have wasted a whole term!

In some later versions of the passage above the student is told:

Please leave Oxford on the next town drain.

The final two words referred to the “down train”. This spoonerism was also included in a different section of the article in “The Strand Magazine”:

. . . his complaint to the station-master of the continued unpunctuality of the “town drain”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1911 December, The Strand Magazine, Volume 42, Spooneriana by A. T. Corke, Start Page 770, Quote Page 771, Column 2, Published by George Newnes, Strand, London. (HathiTrust)

Spoonerism: You Are Occupewing My Pie

William A. Spooner? Apocryphal?

occupewing07Dear Quote Investigator: I love spoonerisms, humorous phrases in which the initial sounds or letters of some words are swapped. According to a popular anecdote William A. Spooner who was the Warden of New College, Oxford was late to church services one day and found that a woman was sitting in his customary pew. He addressed her with the following garbled words:

Pardon me, madam, you are occupewing my pie.

Spooner was attempting to say:

Pardon me, madam, you are occupying my pew.

Apparently, a large number of spoonerisms were really constructed by clever students and other humorists. Would you please explore whether this phrase was really spoken by Spooner.

Quote Investigator: Reverend William A. Spooner lived from 1844 to 1930. The earliest evidence of this spoonerism located by QI appeared in an article dated April 9, 1887 titled “Word-Twisting Versus Nonsense” in “The Spectator” of London. Multiple examples of playfully altered expressions were presented. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

With the transposition of initial letters, a new field of solecism is opened up, in which a living cleric, in other respects intelligent and accomplished, works with an involuntary assiduity that is most upsetting to his hearers. “My brethren,” so ran one of his most startling announcements, “we all know what it is to have a half-warmed fish [i.e., half-formed wish] in our hearts.”

With him, however, the mischief goes further, extending to the mutual entanglement of words which is terrible to contemplate. He has been known to speak of “Kinquering congs,” and on one occasion, ever memorable to his interlocutor, addressing himself to a gentleman who had intruded upon his seat in church, he politely remarked,—“Pardon me, Sir, but I think you are occupewing my pie.”

In the initial instances of the story, a man was occupying the pew and not a woman. “The Spectator” article did not print William A. Spooner’s name, but the full context left no doubt as to the identity of the “living cleric”. Also, many later articles ascribed the phrases directly to Spooner. Nevertheless, the evidence was weak. QI and most researchers believe that almost all spoonerisms attributed to Spooner were never actually said by him. The phrases were not uttered spontaneously they were deliberately constructed to elicit laughter.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1887 April 9, The Spectator, Word-Twisting Versus Nonsense, Start Page: 491, Quote Page 492, Published by John Campbell, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link