T’was the time of a century past and the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, the unusual looking but beloved Dean, and then Warden, of New College in Oxford, England was passionately delivering his words of wisdom.
Perhaps it was an ill chosen time to deliver such a wondrous and well crafted speech. Be that as it may, the floor was his and he made the best use of it, but his heart was not in it. Far too many of his usual listeners were absent, and he felt his efforts on their behalf were sorely under appreciated.
There came a moment when Bill paused at a natural break in his oratory and looked around him. He sighed and uttered the sort of words that had cast him into immortality.
“It’s beery work talking to empty wenches.”
I read Rev. Spooner’s story a long time ago in the preface of an old dictionary that as I recall was printed some time in the 1940’s. It certainly made quite an impression on me because I retained the memory of that story and not whatever it was that I was looking for in that musty old tome.
An interesting thing about his wonderful turns of phrase is that they almost always had some connection to what he was talking about anyway. Point in case… the quote I’ve used at the end of this post, and the myth that Queen Victoria was of the firm conviction that lesbians didn’t exist.
One of my favourite personal spoonerisms is for baking bread, which we do in our household. I have a wonderful time opening the windows (when the weather allows) and letting the smell of the freshly baked bread waft out and torture the neighbours. ‘Breaking bed’ is now our personal euphemism for the creation of, and soon thereafter the consumption of, bread. There are other uses we put that phrase to, but this blog is about writing.
Things like spoonerisms create texture and give substance to a character’s personality. (It would be a fascinating exercise to create a character who almost exclusively talks in spoonerisms – if it could be done without driving oneself nuts) Other things like recurring themes in the way they talk or a phrase used regularly can also differentiate one character from another when there’s a whole lot of dialogue going on, particularly between more than two characters. (In Mortal Instinct I use the recurring phrase, “Well, that answers that question” even if the question hasn’t been asked or even formulated by a character) And, when there’s no gender differentiation in her novel at all, (‘he said’, ‘she said’) a writer needs all the tools at her disposal to keep her audience from getting confused as to who is speaking what and to whom!
The last word should come from the maestro himself …
“Three cheers for our queer old dean” – when toasting Queen Victoria.