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Merely a gaffe, not a spoonerism

Michael Crick | 10:08 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010

As a former student of New College Oxford I must correct the claim that what Jim Naughtie famously said about Jeremy Hunt on Today yesterday morning was a Spoonerism.

It wasn't.

The Rev William Spooner, who was Warden of New College in the early 20th Century, had a habit of transposing the initial letters of certain words, and thereby developed what became known as Spoonerisms.

One of his most famous examples was his speech on expelling an undergraduate:

"You have hissed all my mystery lectures,
You have tasted three whole worms,
You must return to London by the next town drain."

Jim Naughtie, in contrast, merely replaced the 'H' in 'Hunt', with the letter 'C'.

That would only have been a Spoonerism if he had put the 'H' instead of a 'C' at the start of another word nearby - for example if he had called Mr Hunt the 'Hulture Secretary'.

But he didn't.

So it was merely a gaffe.

And potentially a Freudian slip.


  • Comment number 1.


    It was the first letter of the next word. See me Crick, and wipe that smirk off you face.

  • Comment number 2.

    Remember zany Kenny Everett's punk character Cupid Stunt?

  • Comment number 3.

    Michael - have you seen the script? Couldn't it have gone something like:

    'After the news we'll be talking to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary'?

    Or the Hulture Secretary.

    It could very easily have been a spoonerism, albeit a truncated one once he realised the import of the first half.

  • Comment number 4.

    it was a spoonerism 'cos he took the 'c' from the word 'culture' which was about to follow his name. culture secretary.

  • Comment number 5.

    Surely it was indeed a Spoonerism, merely incomplete. It seems relatively obvious that Naughtie would have gone on to say "Hulture Secretary", had he not noticed his error partway through...

  • Comment number 6.

    I think he was heading in that direction, but realised what he was saying quickly enough to correct the second part. A semi-spooner, maybe.

  • Comment number 7.

    My dear wife is a student of the late Professor Spooner. Whilst we enjoy a rich humour in private I would never, ever draw her attention to it in public.

    This causes me to wonder how much of an accident Naughties' malapropism was. I have a nasty suspicion that the bourgeois literati do not like the idea of this government cutting back on their cultural pleasures as it means they then have to dig into their own heavily subsidised pockets to pay for the rubbish they choose to call culture whilst cheerfully taxing the lower paid on their choice of bad booze.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    " All posts are pre-moderated. What does this mean?"
    It means that while Michael is open to humorous criticism of his mild and not so humorous pedantry, one should not actually use the Lingua Franca of Naughtie-Marr land to describe his feminine side...

  • Comment number 10.

    Glad someone is finally pointing this out - so many ignorant people around these days trying to sound clever.

    However, what Spooner did was to transpose the first letters of key (paired) words in the phrase, so to be a Spoonerism he would have had to call him not Jeremy Hunt, but "Heremy Junt".

    And - he didn't do that. Certainly the letter "C" wouldn't enter into it.
    You have to wonder if this was accidental - taking a swipe at a government minister (no chance of libel action) is a risk-free crowd-pleaser and some free fame and notoriety for a man who was basically a bit player prior to this incident.

    It's fame in the 15 minute class though - I still have no interest in hearing anything he has to say after this.

  • Comment number 11.

    Or it was, possibly, by being somewhat of a trend across a certain media organ's senior 'broadcasters', potentially something else entirely.

    At least 'what a bunch of NaughtieMarrs' is now gathering currency as a collective term around and about, my sources tell me.

    And I don't mind my kids using it either, though the explanation stage is, if useful in spreading the word, as it were, 'complex'.

  • Comment number 12.

    I fear that some BBC staff regularly refer to Jeremy Hunt in the way that Naughtie and Marr both did on-air.

    I suggest that by using the "spoonerism" off-air they find it hard to get out of the habit when on-air.

    You may know Michael.

  • Comment number 13.

    Following stanilic in 7 is the Naughtie/Marr misspeak

    a) a spoonerism

    b) a malapropism or

    c) an eggcorn?

  • Comment number 14.

    if you have the surname can expect all you get....

  • Comment number 15.

    Sorry to be pedantic here, but this sentence

    "You must return to London by the next town drain."

    is plain wrong.

    All trains to London travel in the 'UP' direction. Trains travel away from London in the 'DOWN' direction.

  • Comment number 16.

    Jeremy's middle name is Isaac?

  • Comment number 17.

    Apparently the Beeb vetoed one of Kenny Evereett's characters called Mary Hinge.


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