Commentary – Sometimes a nate grotion!

Joe McWilliams

Over 30 years on the job, junk tends to accumulate. And not just the physical kind!

My work computer, for example, has stories, or opinion columns, sitting around. They gather dust, if pieces of digital data can be said to do that.

Whole years go by, and then one day I’ll go through my files, wondering why there are so many and if I should be cleaning house. Or maybe just do some digital dusting.

As often as not I’ll have forgotten these things existed. This one, for example: What a bunch of Norse mahure, my classmate Lorimer B. was fond of saying. He might not be happy to know that is the most memorable thing about him. But to me it was a nifty bit of wordplay – exactly the kind of thing I wish I had come up with myself.

It may be some kind of weird condition I have, that such clever turns of phrase stick with me more than other information that is more useful – such as how to fix a lawnmower, say, or do online banking.

That sort of swapping of letters to create something goofy has a name. It’s called a ‘Spoonerism,’ after the English Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), who was reputed to have come up with some whoppers. “The Lord is a shoving leopard” is a good example. It was that same Lord, no doubt, who dealt the Pharoah of Egypt “a blushing crow.”

Sometimes switching the letters or syllables of people’s names produces amusing results. Often, you have to keep it to yourself for fear of offending them, but thank goodness not always. Thus, Engelbert Humperdinck (remember him?) gets rearranged to Engeldinck Birdhumper – a naughty (if unlikely) bit of Spoonerism I came across in the alternative news rag the Georgia Straight, back in the 1970s.

Then there’s the Canadian Broadcorping Castration (thanks to Arthur Black for that one).

How about that comedian who did a whole stand-up routine using Spoonerisms? I saw it on TV back in the early 1970s – possibly on the Ed Sullivan Show. The part I remember was the retelling of a popular fairy tale, in which “Rindercella slopped her dripper.” I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I don’t have to, because Google does the remembering for me. It was Archie Campbell, and the piece was first done on the show Hee Haw, in 1969.

Now, let’s see what else I can find . . .

Bill Bryson, in his book The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way devotes a whole chapter to wordplay. English is especially good for this sort of thing, he says, due partly to so many words having more than one meaning. That’s what makes puns possible, and can make crosswords (the better ones) so difficult to crack.

Then there’s the good old anagram. Take somebody’s name, say, rearrange the letters and see if you can up with something that works. Mother-in-law can be rearranged into woman Hitler, for example, or parishioners into I hire parsons.

You see what I mean!

Does any of this matter? Shouldn’t I be tackling the more serious topics of the day? Fair enough. Let’s talk about Premier Danielle Smith. Or Semi-lethal Din, as she could be called, if you’re into the whole anagram thing.

But I’m not into making pun of foliticians. They have a hard enough time as it is!

Have a dice nay!

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