I find the English language fascinating. I’ve posted observations on a few of the oddities of the English language: similes, metaphors, purple prose, malapropisms, homophones, and cliched phrases. Well, here are a few more to add to that list: spoonerisms, oxymorons, pleonasms, and non-standard plurals.
Spoonerisms, named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner, are not technically a figure of speech but rather a trick of the tongue or brain where the initial letters of a phrase get mistakenly transposed. As an example, instead of asking, “is it customary to kiss the bride,” you might inquire, “is it kisstomary to cuss the bride.?” As a sixth grader enrolled at Lincoln Elementary, I ran home one day excited about a fair that the school was planning. I burst into the kitchen and announced to my mother, “This Friday is the Lincoln Fool Scare!” I couldn’t understand why my mother was laughing. For those of you slow on the uptake I had meant to say, “Lincoln School Fair.”
That was probably the moment that I became interested in spoonerisms and recently I came across one that that has a particularly inventive “spoonerized” cousin. You have heard the adage about putting the “horse before the cart.” A song by Elizabeth and the Catapult uses that phrase as well as its spoonerism urging one not to put the “course before the heart” making it a clever turn of phase rather than a blurted mistake. Another favorite comes from Tom Waits who once said, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
I was trying to think of other spoonerisms that would work as well and thought that, “all the nooks and crannies were filled with crooks and nannies,” worked well. Another that comes to mind although highly inferior (is that an oxymoron?) would be to somehow link the phrase taking a bird with baking a turd. Please feel free to share any exceptional spoonerisms and I will fill a few more crooks and nannies of my brain.
Oxymorons are another passing interest of mine. You know these as those apparently self contradictory phrases such as pretty ugly, act natural, liquid gas, freezer burn, daily special or the currently appropriate Congressional accountability. Creating an oxymoron is profoundly simple: pair two words of opposing definition that make up a phrase of purpose. I found a somewhat exhaustive list on the internet but I have a few not mentioned that I’d like to add such as: appear invisible, blank thoughts, fresh croutons, edge of the universe, uncomplicated sex, 3D movie, earned gift, tax refund, and permanently postponed. Steve Meitz (a.k.a. Bus Rider) told me his favorite oxymoron is actually a homophonic oxymoron: chaise lounge. Get it (chase lounge)?
Related to but lesser known than the oxymoron is the pleonasm (pronounced plee–uh-naz-uhm). No it’s not something found in erotic fiction, it’s a phrase that is unnecessarily redundant. Dictionary.com defines it as “the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy.” Some sample pleonasms are: true fact, ice cold, plan ahead, sopping wet, blazing inferno, shared collaboration, all-time record, and sudden impulse. If you already knew what a pleonasm was you may self-congratulate yourself.
Finally we get to plurals, or more specifically what I am going to call non-standard plurals, meaning plurals that don’t simply end in “s,” “-es,” or “-ies.” Why is the plural of mouse, mice when the plural of house is houses? If the plural of goose is geese, then why isn’t the plural of moose, meese? Who came up with the idea of using the letter “I” to indicate more than one of something such as octopi? Does every noun that normally ends in the letter “s” get an “I” stuck on the end in plural form? If you have more than one compass, would you refer to them as compi? There is also that class of words that are the same in both singular and plural form such as deer. And finally what is the singular form of a pair of scizzors or a pair of pants? Alan Sherman (of Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh fame) attempts to answer some of those questions in a very funny song called One Hippopotami, that is about plurals in which he contends that the plural of half is whole. That’s a true fact…