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February 14, 1977

Spooner Syndrome

JAMA. 1977;237(7):677. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270340063026

'Tis no secret that physicians can be killjoys. Most of the things that are fun in life turn out to be bad for your health. Witness the exhortations not to smoke vile cigarettes, not to eat rich foods, and not to drink heady wines. Less well known is the joy-jading effect of medical diagnosis on our cherished beliefs.

One such belief is that spoonerisms—the seemingly accidental, funny interchanges of first syllables or sounds of words—are anything but deliberate comic inventions. William Archibald Spooner (1844 to 1930), dean of New College, Oxford, was credited with originating spoonerisms when he preached on "Kinquering Congs." Few at the time would have suspected the respected dean of suffering from a cerebral disorder, certainly none of his contemporary Oxford wits who imitated him. And one can be sure that no such thought entered the mind of the vaudevillian who confessed to being "under the affluence