William A. Spooner? Apocryphal?
Dear 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.
- 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) ↩