Aidan Wilson writes:

After only a week in operation, the Crikey editors upstairs received some feedback regarding Crikey‘s language blog, specifically its name.

I was immediately struck by the tricky outcome of a double-letter spoonerism, which inevitably leads one to a “Silly F_ck”, which I thought was very clever. As I have never heard anyone mention this in the past, I can only assume that it was more an indication of the way my mind works. I can’t see “Fully Sick” now without thinking “Silly F_ck”.

How embarrassment!

Yes, how embarrassment.

But this piqued a bit of interest among the Fully (sic) authors about what sort of spoonerism this is. A normal spoonerism as we all remember from school, is when you take the first consonant cluster from one word, and switch it with the first consonant cluster of another word. If the word begins with a vowel, then you just take the consonants from the other word and shove them on the front. For example, pink stuff becomes stink puff, bold eagle becomes old beagle, and so forth. But there are also cited examples of spoonerisms that take much more than just the first bunch of consonants. Greenland’s icy mountains famously became Iceland’s greasy mountains.

But how does Fully (sic) spoonerise to become Silly Fuck? As the commenter pointed out, it would have to have been a tricky double-letter spoonerism, taking the “fu” from fully, and switching it with the “si” from (sic). But notice that the pronunciation of the “u” changes in the different positions. Unless you speak like a Scot, in which case Silly fook would be perfectly adequate. So in fact, it’s not a genuine spoonerism in that there isn’t total phonetic reflection from one to the other.

This brings up another curious type of spoonerism that I saw only once, and haven’t seen since. Many years ago during a lunch, my mother asked me whether there was any more coffee, but in a wonderfully coincidental demonstration of her caffeine requirement, asked instead:

Is there any more toffee gear?

Now, this is cool. First up you should notice this isn’t a straight spoonerism, otherwise it’d come out as doffee kear. Clearly there is something mirroring coffee dear in the words toffee gear, but between t, d, g and c (which is pronounced k in this instance) there isn’t really any commonality, right?

Wrong. If you break down these consonants and look at their internal components (which phoneticians call ‘features’), we see that this spoonerism is remarkably straightforward. ‘t’ and ‘k’ are both voiceless (meaning the vocal folds aren’t moving while they’re being produced) while ‘d’ and ‘g’ are both voiced. And both ‘t’ and ‘d’ are produced in one place (the alveolar ridge — just behind the upper teeth) while ‘k’ and ‘g’ are both produced at another place (the velum, behind the palate). Here is exactly that represented in a table (which makes us look more scientific):

alveolar velar
voiceless t k
voiced d g

Now, here’s the tricky bit: if you start off with koffee dear, and you switch the position of the consonants only, leaving their voice value the same, then you replace the k with t and you replace d with g, leaving toffee gear. In other words, you start off with the diagonal sounds in the table, k and d, and then you switch them with the other diagonals, t and g.

eint fənɛtɪks fʌn?

Just out of interest, what’s the best spoonerism you’ve heard? Extra points for spoonerisms that require detailed phonetic analysis to uncover, or ones that reveal some deep-seated Freudian obsession or Oedipal complex on the part of the spooner.