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:

fighting a liarlighting a fire
you hissed my mystery lectureyou missed my history lecture
cattle ships and bruisersbattle ships and cruisers
nosy little cookcozy little nook
a blushing crowa crushing blow
tons of soilsons of toil
our queer old Deanour dear old Queen
we’ll have the hags flung outwe’ll have the flags hung out
you’ve tasted two wormsyou’ve wasted two terms
our shoving leopardour loving shepherd
a half-warmed fisha 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 archeology Fellow.” When the man replied, saying, “I am Stanley Casson,” Spooner said, “Never mind. Come all the same.”


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