Thursday 30 April 2009


Spoonerism clues use play on words in which the initial sounds or syllables of words are switched.


Such as:


The term 'spoonerism' comes from Reverend W.A. Spooner (1844-1930), an Oxford don, who is reputed to have made these linguistic slips frequently. In cryptic clues, spoonerisms are popular for their humorous effect.

Guardian 24270: Sitting comfortably? Here, perhaps, is Spooner's popular but second-rate tune (4,5)
popular but second-rate tune = CHEESY AIR
Spooner's indicates that CHEESY AIR is a Spoonerism of the expected answer. Switch the initial sounds and you get the solution, EASY CHAIR.

Spoonerism Clue Characteristics

  • Very easy to identify because of its giveaway indicator - the clue will nearly always has the word 'Spooner' in it. It is also simple to deconstruct – whatever follows "Spooner's" or immediately precedes ", as Spooner would say", is a spoonerism of the solution.

  • Spoonerism clues are used sparingly. Of the popular daily crosswords, Guardian seems to carry them the most (once a month or so). They are rare in the crosswords published in India. This one is from ET in '07:

    ET 3396: Spooner's criminal with nurse finding hiding places (4,3,6) NOOK AND CRANNY [Spoonerism of CROOK AND NANNY]

  • In advanced cryptics, spoonerisms may be more complex with transpose not limited to initial sound. There could be vocalic switches [e.g. BUNTING/BIN TONGUE or UNHITCH/IN HUTCH], and changes of punctuation. Example: Azed Spoonerism Crossword 2403.

Solve These! 

Try solving these clues from the Guardian archives:
Spooner's metal building an irritating thing? (4,5)
Spooner's stuff, sailor's vehicle (7)

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Chaturvasi said...

Spoonerism clues have occasionally appeared in THC, even in recent times but maybe before you started building up your collection of clues.

In the db that I have and from which I often cite earlier instances of clues for particular words (going back to 2001), I cannot find any! The search term that I used was Spooner; could there have been a Spoonerism clue without the mention of the name of the reverend? I don't know!

Shuchi said...

I recall a couple of THC clues in which the solution was SPOONER/SPOONERISM. I don't remember spoonerisms used as wordplay. Do let me know if you find an instance from THC.

A Spoonerism clue I came across recently used the indicator "switch letters" or something on those lines, without mentioning Spooner. Also, it seems that in American cryptic clues, it is acceptable to say "the Reverend's" to indicate a spoonerism clue - or so I gathered from a discussion on an American crossword forum.

C.G. BHARGAV said...

Here is a nice clue which appeared in the NIE X-word very recently:
First thing to make when composing a spoonerism? (7,4)

Shuchi said...

Delightful! Thanks Bhargav.

anokha said...

Found mentioned somewhere that next Sunday’s Azed monthly prize puzzle in the Observer is all about spoonerisms????

Also found the following - hilarious irrespective of true or not!

A true story about Rev. Spooner when he was at a dinner at Oxford: He was proposing a toast to begin the evening which was supposed to say, “Let us raise our glasses and toast the dear Queen (Victoria).” What Spooner actually said was, “Let us glaze our asses and toast the queer dean.”

Shuchi said...

That was funny, Anokha, thanks for sharing.

Spoonerism is an Azed specialty, here is an old Spoonerism-based puzzle from last year:,,-22490,00.html. Will keep a lookout for next Sunday's.

I am trying to get the hang of Azed these days but it is too tough for me - I always abandon my efforts midway and just check the answers :P

Chaturvasi said...


Did you see the illustration in Shuchi's main post?

But the glazing part of the anecdote is left out!

anokha said...

Today's Azed is indeed about spoonerisms - half across & half down clues!

Easy Everyman though ...........

Yes, Vasi Sir - but found the other half really funny!

Unknown said...

Just completed Sunday Mail crossword clue,Spoonerisms say.
( 4,2,3,6. Slip of the tongue.)

Paul Spooner.