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Shel Silverstein

Sultan of Spoonerisms

By Gabrielle Copeland Schoeffield

I recently had cause to read two more of Shel Silverstein’s children’s books (I have been slowly going through his entire collection). I found Runny Babbit and Runny Babbit Returns delightful, nonsensical, and thought-provoking. Both books are written using a literary device called a spoonerism.


According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, a spoonerism is defined as “a transposition of usually initial sounds of two or more words (as in tons of soil for sons of toil).”
As the story goes, Reverend William Archibald Spooner, a clergyman and educator in Britain was nervous when it came to public speaking. He often twisted up the words as they fell from his mouth. As a result, things like ‘a crushing blow’ came out as ‘a blushing crow.’ Soon enough his name inspired the term which is still used today.

Each book, a collection of Shel Silverstein poems, accompanied by Silverstein artwork, are written in the spoonerism fashion. The first poem in Runny Babbit gives the simplest of explanations. “…instead of saying “purple hat,” they all say “hurple pat…”

My favorite is BEDDY TEAR STETS GUCK.
Runny Babbit went to see
His good friend Beddy Tear,
Who had some nice heet swoney
That she was glad to share.
They slobbled it and gurped it—
It gluck to them like stue.
Said Beddy Tear to Runny,
“I think I’m thuck on you.”

Other examples of spoonerisms include a well-boiled icicle rather than a well-oiled bicycle, Its roaring pain instead of its pouring rain, or I bit my hunny phone instead of I hit my funny bone.
Let’s have some fun! Can you figure out what the spoonerisms below are?

Kugs and Hisses       Gocks and Saloshes       Cat and Hoat

How many can you come up with?

 

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