Absent Mindedness

The Original Absent-Minded Professor

Dr. William Archibald Spooner

Dr. William Archibald Spooner

Oxford Professor William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930) is best remembered for his tendency to swap letters, words, or parts of words when he spoke. The result — known as spoonerisms — are generally more memorable than the originally-intended phrase. Some of Spooner’s more-famous examples include:

Spoken Intended
fighting a liar lighting a fire
you hissed my mystery lecture you missed my history lecture
cattle ships and bruisers battle ships and cruisers
nosey little cook cosy little nook
a blushing crow a crushing blow
tons of soil sons of toil
our queer old Dean our dear old Queen
we’ll have the hags flung out we’ll have the flags hung out
you’ve tasted two worms you’ve wasted two terms
our shoving leopard our loving shepherd
a half-warmed fish a half-formed wish
is the bean dizzy? is the Dean busy?

Spooner was also known for his absent-mindedness. He once wrote a professor to ask him to come immediately to help solve a problem. At the end of the letter he added a post-script that the matter had been resolved and he needn’t come, after all.

Another time he invited a colleague to a reception “to welcome Stanley Casson, our new archaeology Fellow.” When the man replied, saying, “I am Stanley Casson,” Spooner said, “Never mind. Come all the same.”


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