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April 16, 2014
Was he famous, or infamous?
I'll let you decide. But one man was so well known for a particular verbal salmagundi that it was named after him. Reverend William Spooner (1844 - 1930) was a scholar, Anglican priest and a lecturer at Oxford University. During his six decades there he became the poster gentleman for mixing up well-intentioned sayings to amusing effect.
Well before the ever-present appendages of digital media, the verbal train wrecks he was apt to cause were surprisingly well documented. Some of them were categorically apocryphal, but others were accurate. To wit, in an attempt to describe his redeemer as "The Loving Shepherd", he is on the record for saying "the Lord is a shoving leopard."
Who could blame him for toasting Queen Victoria? "Three cheers for our queer old dean!" he said enthusiastically to a slightly confused audience. And just as the troops were about to come home from France after WWI, you could almost hear a pin drop after he proclaimed to a group of students "When our boys come home from France, we will have the hags flung out."
Much has been celebrated about what Reverend Spooner said, and yet, very little about why. Some say it was due to nystagmus, an eye-shifting side effect of albinism, which he had. In any case, Spooner and his followers created a whole new linguistic category among the likes of dogberryisms, mondegreens and eggcorns.
May sod rest his goal.
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