Behavioral Spoonerisms

July 21st, 2011

A spoonerism is a verbal slip that reverses the order of syllables in a phrase. The term comes from the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, but most of the good spoonerisms are actually humorous concoctions by others. Here are a few examples of the funniest ones:

“Three cheers for our queer old dean!”
“Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?”
“The Lord is a shoving leopard.”
“A blushing crow”
“Is the bean dizzy?”

I would like to confess to a variation on the concept: the behavioral spoonerism, which I seem to be performing with greater frequency as I age. For example, every morning, I make myself a cup of tea. It’s a routine I have performed thousands of times. I pull a cup down from the cupboard, fill it with water, open a drawer, withdraw three bags of artificial sweetener, open the garbage compactor, rip the tops off the three bags, drop the tops into the garbage compactor, then pour the sweetener into the water, pull a teabag out of the drawer, rip off its top and drop the top into the garbage compactor, remove the tea bag, and dip it into the water.

However, I recently performed this sequence of operations in an altered order. After ripping off the tops of the sweetener bags, I carefully poured the sweetener into the garbage compactor and dropped the tops into the teacup. Oops.

In another example, whilst preparing a meal for the microwave oven, I pulled a small bottle of sauce out of the refrigerator, poured some sauce onto my dish, and placed the bottle of sauce into the microwave oven. Fortunately, I caught myself before cooking the sauce.

Here’s another case: I was working in my shop, repairing something. I needed to drill a hole in it, so I selected a drill bit and mounted it in the drill press. Alas, the hole was a bit too tight, so I needed a larger bit. I removed the original drill bit, retrieved the next larger drill bit, replaced the workpiece onto the drill press bed, and turned the drill press on. Only when I started to lower the drill bit onto the workpiece did I notice that I had forgotten to mount the new drill bit into the drill chuck.

Most of my behavioral spoonerisms have involved moving objects from Point A to Point B, and reversing the order of some operation, resulting in my placing the wrong object in the wrong location. I have not yet attempted to brush my teeth before putting toothpaste onto my toothbrush, nor have I flushed the toilet before using it, but I fear that someday I shall perform some spectacular behavioral spoonerism. Perhaps I’ll sit down on a chair before pulling it up, start peeing before lifting the toilet lid, or shake the salad dressing after removing the top.