Spoonerisms: Getting Your Words Mixed Up


By Joe Saunders

As children, we gradually grasp of our language, learn how to use it properly and how to pronounce our words clearly and succinctly. This is usually the case, anyway, unless you’re like me and frequently suffer from a complete and utter brainmelt halfway through your speech, coming out with an embarrassing slip like ‘flat cap’ instead of ‘cat flap’, or ‘flutterby’ instead of ‘butterfly’. However, interestingly enough there’s a term for this linguistic phenomenon: named after William Archibald Spooner, such slips are known as ‘spoonerisms’. They involve the switching of sounds or syllables, typically between two-word phrases or compounds, giving an effect not entirely dissimilar from Cockney rhyming slang. As you would expect, it can create some rather odd combinations. A few examples are given below:

‘Car park’ –> ‘Par cark’ (Apparently this one featured particularly heavily in my childhood – oops.)

‘It’s pouring with rain’ –> ‘It’s roaring with pain’  

‘Cat flap’ –> ‘Flat cap’

‘Block of flats’ –> ‘Flock of bats’

‘I’m going to cook the chicken’ –> ‘I’m going to kick the chooken’ (A family favourite, this one.)

‘Bad salad’ –> ‘Sad ballad’

‘A pack of lies’ –> ‘A lack of pies’

‘Foul beast’ –> ‘Bowel feast’

‘Popcorn’ –> ‘Cop porn’

Spoonerisms are usually accidental, slipping out when your brain is running faster than your mouth, but if you want to be a true “Spoonerist” then you could always try a few in everyday speech. You might get a few weird looks, though.

Heard any spoonerisms recently? Give us a tweet or comment on our Pacebook fage!

What’s the measure of size zero?

tape measure

At 5’10”, I, Imogen Stark, stand tall and proud in saying that I have a ‘size zero’ waist. Defined by the fashion modelling industry as being between 22 and 24 inches, my waist is smaller than the circumference of my head. Whilst this may sound absurd, I can assure you it is 100% true. Is it wrong of me to be so proud of my measurements? How does this incredibly small size define me?

Recently, fellow linguist Jade posted about her opinions on the term ‘plus size’. For me, it raises issues at the opposing end of the spectrum: To what extent do measurements matter? How do terms such as ‘size zero’ and ‘skinny’ project certain ideas?

The term size zero in itself simply doesn’t compute with some people; how can a size be nothing? Is it even a real size? If not, when are you considered a ‘size’, or perhaps more interestingly, a ‘plus size’?  If we feel the need to use the term plus size, then does it call for an opposing term? What about “negative size” or “minus size”? Are the connotations which follow from these latter terms any better than those which follow from plus size? Consider victims of eating disorders and those who, like myself, are naturally slim.

It’s important to remember that these are of course, gendered terms and are hardly ever used to refer to men. Would defining a woman by her size as they do for men by using S, M, or L be better, or should we follow the common tendency for plus size women to refer to themselves as ‘real’ or ‘natural’ women? I quite clearly don’t fit into the category of being ‘plus size’ so does that mean that I’m not a ‘real’ woman? Should I not embrace my naturally slim figure? Should I be shunned for feeling confident about my size? I understand that there’s an audience who feel a stigma confronted by labels presented to them when shopping for clothes, but I can’t help but feel that there’s an ever growing judgement on those at the ‘skinny’ end of the spectrum. Take a Victoria’s Secret model, for example. Are they ‘real’ women? Should they be confident in their size? They’re not holograms; of course they’re real women. Of course they should be confident.

Whilst the terms ‘real’/’natural’ women aim to show respect and that size doesn’t matter, think about what you’re doing to those women like me at the opposing end. If you’re not happy to use the term ‘plus size’, would you be happy in using the term ‘negative size’ to refer to me? Am I to be considered a ‘real’ woman? What’s the measure of a so-called ‘size zero’ woman like me?

photo credit: Day 22/365 via photopin (license)

What’s in a label?

By Jade Cook

Cosmopolitan Magazine recently posted an article featuring Remi Ray and why she’s embracing the term ‘plus-size’. In the article Remi confronts the term and explains why she’s not ashamed of the label and I agree with her; it’s not the label that causes upset, it’s the connotations it carries and the way society has attributed such an undercurrent of negativity to the term. Nowadays, the label itself is bypassed with the recipient fixating on what the speaker might have ‘really meant’. Meaning is existing in the subtext rather than the text itself – and this is the problem.

It’s undeniable that, in today’s society, there’s a certain stigma attached to being deemed ‘bigger than average’. The problem here, of course, is the definition of ‘average’ according to today’s media. The beauty industry as a whole isn’t representing actual average sized women; it’s representing an average where ‘size zero’ is one end of the spectrum and where a size 10-12 model is ‘plus-size’ if she is part of a campaign fronted by a major fashion house. This makes their version of an ‘average’ sized woman at around a size 6-8, which is part of the reason that it’s unhealthy for every woman to compare themselves to this one standard of beauty and feel that they are lacking in themselves if they cannot compete.

What I cannot stress enough is that this is neither a pro-curves article, nor an article in support of size zero. This is an article that is in support of women, an article that is asking why we are allowing labels to dictate not only how we view ourselves, but also how we view each other. If a woman is naturally ‘thin’ by label, with her hipbones slightly visible and her collarbone protruding she’ll be treated by society as though she has an eating disorder of some kind that allows her to maintain such a figure. If a woman wants to lift weights, challenge her body and build her strength she might reasonably be labelled ‘strong’, but then she’s criticised for being ‘masculine’ – and as a woman, this is of course grounds to be deemed ‘unattractive’, right? Any woman who labels herself ‘curvy’ is accused of implying that she is the epitome of  ‘a real woman’, thus making any woman who isn’t curvaceous feel like she’s being called out for not being a ‘real woman’. The implications of labels are never explicitly said, but because of our incessant need to compare and judge people by what they are or what they are not, we take it that any attributes we lack ultimately make us less of a person, when they don’t.

Think of it this way: When we die, nobody writes in our eulogy what our hip to waist ratio was, nobody remembers us by the body shape we had, nobody defines our character based on the number on the scales – because it’s not important. All that labels are doing is telling somebody one quality of what we are to the naked eye; it is the connotations that we’ve associated with each label that are skewing their meaning. The labels themselves say nothing about our character, nothing about the depth we have as individuals, and yet we allow their use and how we interpret them to hinder the way we view ourselves in our entirety. Young women need to be taught the difference between the label ‘fat’ and ‘having fat’ – something that the human body cannot survive without. We should be educating women that the number on the scales takes into account the blood in your veins, the weight of the organs keeping you alive, the cells that created the body you live in, the bones and muscles that allow you to walk, run, dance and move and the water that hydrates the skin you should feel comfortable in; the kilograms in the reading are not just ‘fat’.  If we learnt these connotations rather than the negative ones usually associated with the label, perhaps ‘fat’ would lose its power in encouraging us to self-loathe.

If we can accept that no two women desire the exact same lives, careers, partners, friends, adventures or possessions, then why can’t we embrace that they do not desire to look exactly the same either? We have spent years trying to empower women, trying to encourage them to see themselves as equals. We’ve told women to believe in their ambitions and to fight for what they want. Now it seems we are reversing our hard work by disempowering them with not the labels, but the house of negative associations we’ve built and continue to build around each one.  Now every label that doesn’t have the connotation of ‘perfection’ is subliminally saying ‘you aren’t good enough’, ‘your size is holding you back’, ‘you should be ashamed if this label applies to you’, ‘your weight overshadows anything you achieve’ – where is the sense in that?  We’re creating a generation of women who are never content with who they are, women who feel they are constantly required to better themselves aesthetically.

As Remi Ray stated in her interview, ‘It’s not the vocabulary that’s standing in our way, it’s how the plus-sized community is perceived by the public (and more importantly, by its own members).’

So I stand to call an end to giving this issue anymore airtime, for the sake of the women suffering at the hands of these apparent ‘meanings’ that are encoded in every label, ready to dictate to them on some level that they are inadequate. For the sake of the pre-teens who’ve yet to discover the scale of this war on size we’re currently in and for every person who has fallen victim to the bullies in school corridors or work places, on the streets or in the club, who believe it is their place to tell you why you’re one thing and not another. What I find saddening is that we’re the ones falling victim to this process of comparison, we’re the ones inferring what each label means, therefore we are effectively the only people responsible for the power each label now has.  ‘Curvy’ only means you have curves in the outline of your body, it doesn’t mean ‘a polite way of saying you’re overweight’ the same way that ‘athletic’ doesn’t mean ‘lacking femininity’ and ‘plus-size’ doesn’t mean ‘fat and disgusting’.

Pity those who cannot embrace the beauty of difference and think of the misery they will endure for as long as they are fixated with conforming to one standard of beauty. If I can leave you with any thought at all it would be this:

If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.’ – Dr. Gail Dines.

Prescriptivist or descriptivist: Where do you fit in?

by Joe Saunders

Whether you know it or not, you, like the rest of us, will have your own opinion on language use. Do you think certain things are ‘right’ whilst others are very much ‘wrong’? Or are you more accepting – watching, listening, but not judging? In the glorious realm of linguistics, there are names for these two perspectives: prescriptivism and descriptivism.

Put simply, prescriptivists are concerned with the regulation of a language and the prevention of change or deviation from a standardised or `proper` form. A good example is L’Académie français, an organisation set up to moderate and ‘purify’ the French language.

The descriptivist stand-point is very different; descriptivists are interested in observing and recording language change and any linguistic phenomena. Generally, descriptivism is the more interesting standpoint, as it often involves looking behind differences in language use and investigating trends rather than resisting or disregarding them. As anyone who is studying or has studied ELL will know, this is the perspective taken by linguists – which is just as well, as we wouldn’t really have much to talk about otherwise.

Not sure what your standpoint is on language? Take our highly sophisticated quiz:

Do you have any of the following symptoms?

  • Extreme anger at certain aspects of language use.
  • Correcting other people’s language in public and online.
  • Losing control of your face and inadvertently scowling when you come across certain spellings and/or applications of grammar.
  • You can understand this: “je pense que tu aurais dû dire ‘tu es’ “

If you have all four then you are probably a prescriptivist, hate change and should see a doctor. If not, then you probably lean more towards the descriptivist viewpoint and can happily continue learning Dohvazul in your spare time (Zu’u lost ven ahk pogaas tiid nau dii haal…).

In all seriousness though, people’s views on language and language use has an effect on variation and the way that our language evolves – or doesn’t evolve. I myself am a descriptivist and hate to see language creativity die, but which do you agree with more?

Word of the Week

‘taradiddle’ (n.): Pretentious nonsense

– This one is automatically awesome because it appears in Harry Potter – “We haven’t got time to listen to more taradiddles, I’m afraid, Dumbledore” (Cornelius Fudge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling, 2004)


By Daniel Otway.bandwagon

Idioms. How we love them. But do we know the origins of some of our favourite sayings? Why do we tell someone to ‘break a leg’ when we wish them good luck? Why do we use imagery of being ‘in the same boat’ when someone is in a similar situation to you? And why do we turn over leaves when we want to start afresh? Allow The Definite Article to shed some light on these famous sayings.


‘In the same boat’

“This week’s reading is really difficult! How are you finding it?”

“Yeah I’m in the same boat, it’s really hard.”

Why a boat? Well, dating back all the way to the ancient Greeks, the idiom was often used to refer to the danger of passengers travelling in small boats – a very common use of transportation at the time. Over time, it has become used to describe situations not just on the sea and has been adapted to apply to pretty much any situation in which individuals are in a similar predicament.


‘Tables have turned’

Used to refer to a situation that has been reversed or altered, ‘tables have turned’ is a very common idiom in the English language today. The ‘tables’ refer to traditional board games, in particular backgammon. Each player would play from a specific side of the table, so by simply turning the board during the game players would be in a different position to what they were originally. A losing player could end up on a more advantageous side, and vice versa. Over time, the term began to move away from its board game origins and eventually was used to refer to a situation in which any individual’s ‘position’ was altered.


‘Jump on the bandwagon’

Be it on football, music or consumer goods, we’ve all heard the phrase ‘jump on the bandwagon’, meaning to latch onto an ever increasing popular fad or trend and typically used today in a derogatory sense. It all started, however, with a clown. In America in the 19th century, a man known as Dan Rice, a very popular clown and circus performer, became so famous he eventually ran for president in 1848. Using his various circus resources, he created a one-of-a-kind political campaign, including using the circus’ own bandwagon. Due to its popularity, many other politicians at the time wanted to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ themselves in order to rally their own support. Over time, the term developed a broader sense and became used for anyone associating themselves with a specific movement or trend.


‘Break a leg’

There are many different theories as to where the term ‘break a leg’ originated from. A simple theory is that it originated in theatre. Wishing someone good luck was considered to cause more harm than good, so by essentially wishing the opposite by saying ‘break a leg’, the performer would hopefully perform well. Other theories claim it originates from the ancient Greeks. During performances in Greek times, people would stomp their feet to show their appreciation rather than applaud. This leads to the rather grim image of performing so well that someone would stomp their feet hard enough to physically break it. Similarly, the stomping of chairs was a sign of appreciation in Elizabethan times, so the breaking of a chair leg would also signify a good performance. All these theories however all relate back to theatre, so it appears safe to assume that the term originated in the theatre at some point in time.



‘Goody two-shoes’

If you were ever called a goody two-shoes by someone as a kid, I bet they didn’t know that the term originates from a story published in 1765 and titled – believe it or not – Goody Two-Shoes. In a similar way to Cinderella, it involves a poor young girl who eventually meets a very nice rich person, is given a pair of wonderful shoes and lives happily ever after. How original. Towards the end of the story, the girl runs through her town showing off her new shoes, thus being nicknamed by the townsfolk as ‘goody two-shoes’. It is perhaps odd then that in modern times the term is used in a rather negative sense, compared to its usage at the time to deem someone virtuous and good, much like the girl in the tale.



‘Turn over a new leaf’

How many of you promised to turn over a new leaf at New Year’s? The phrase ‘turning over a new leaf’ can be traced back to the 16th century, when pages in a book, particularly in education, were known as leaves. By turning over to a blank page in a workbook, you were quite literally turning over a new leaf. By having a clean piece of paper to write on, you were also on a fresh page, ready to start anew, much like what the phrase now encapsulates.



So there you have it, the origins of some of English’s most popular idioms. Why don’t you go turn the tables and tell all your friends about your new found knowledge so you can all be in the same boat when it comes to idioms?