Thursday, March 17, 2011


In 1892 an early version of the Pledge of Allegiance appeared in The Youth's Companion magazine. It read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." 

I give a silent chuckle when I say our Pledge of Allegiance, any version, because I am reminded of my husband’s hearing one phrase of it as ‘and to the Republic for Richard Stands.’  He also remembers a sign he saw on the way to a scout camp in the mountains: Walter Aviable. Turns out the sign said ‘Water Available.’ 

The same thing happened to us at the bank where I worked for years. The bank president’s secretary wanted the file on Lester Attabush, referred to in a letter to the boss. We looked high and low for hours: couldn’t find it. Finally, in came one of the old bank hands, the one who taught me a debit from a credit and all things financial in between. He took one look at the letter she held and said: “Kathleen, you dummy, it says ‘see letter attached!’” 

Richard Stands=for which it stands, Walter Aviable=Water Available, Lester Attabush=letter attached. These are what are now called ‘mondegreens’, and I’d bet you’ve seen or heard some at one time in your life. Some are misread, but most mondegreens are misheard words. Merriam-Webster’s now lists it as: mondegreen: word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung - from the mishearing in a Scottish ballad of “laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen.” There are websites devoted to mondegreens, even Mondegreen-of-the-Day calendars.  We all know that “there’s a bathroom on the right,” and “gladly the cross-eyed bear” because “A soft dancer turneth away wrath.”

People like mondegreens because they are a laugh at themselves in what they hear or see.  To have a laugh at someone else you can look up spoonerisms.  Most spoonerisms start out as spoken words. The switching of syllables of a set of words, deliberate or accidental, is named after a Reverend Spooner who was prone to using them inadvertently. As a Warden of New College, Oxford, William Archibald Spooner was a prominent man in Victorian England, so his tendency was widely known.  In reference to the reigning Victoria, he is quoted as saying “Let us glaze our rasses to the queer old Dean” - there’s also a mondegreen there if you really listen.  He is also known to have said “It is kisstomery to cuss the bride” and “Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed.”

Churchill wrote The History of the English Speaking Peoples, often mistakenly referred to as Peeking Speeples, but who wrote Beeping Sleauty? That was Frederick Chase Taylor, better known on the radio as Colonel Stoopnagle. He would tell fairy tales full of spoonerisms, and Hee Haw’s Archie Campbell would later do it on TV. 

Some phrases such as ‘smart feller’ or ‘shining wit’ are deliberately un-spoonerized, and some, such as ‘bass ackwards’, are spoonerized deliberately.  Shame on them!  Getting into spoonerisms, usually the reversal of first letters or syllables, gets you into the reversal of internal ones: British politician Sir Stafford Cripps was once introduced as “Sir Stifford Crapps.”  From “the Duck and Doochess of Windsor” we go to one of the most noted reversal of syllables: radio announcer Harry von Zell, probably to his eternal mortification, after saying it correctly many times during a tribute piece, referred to our 31st President as “Hoobert Heever.” 

Starrel, starrel little twink, how high up you am I think. I’m not under the alfluence of incohol, although some thinkle peep I am. Verbal blunders, imagined in mondegreens or actual in spoonerisms, are always good for a small dose of a medicinal laugh.

(originally posted March 9, 2011)

No comments:

Post a Comment