William Archibald Spooner was born in London on 22 July 1844.
When he was only eighteen, he won a scholarship to New College, Oxford, through
which he took two first-class degrees - in classical moderations and humanities.
His connections with the college lasted a lifetime as his career developed within
the university bounds as a scholar of the classics and of divinity.
Spooner became a fellow of New College in 1867, a lecturer
in 1868, a tutor in 1869, dean 1876-1889
(having been ordained as an Anglican priest in 1875) and Warden of New College from 1903, the year
in which he completed his Doctor of Divinity degree.
Spooner had a nervous tendency to sometimes transpose initial letters or
half-syllables in speech. This tendency became known, circa 1885, as Spoonerism and the
sometimes hilarious transpositions became known as Spoonerisms - Dr. Spooner's
occasional transpositions created a reputation and started a fad. Students began
devising transpositional puns, and attributing them to him.
His famous speech lapses are thought to have resulted from the difficulty
he may have had reading. Spooner was an albino and as such, suffered from
defective eyesight - he was also short in stature a head dispropotionately large
in relation to his body. Dr. Spooner's tendency towards Spoonerism led many people to mistakenly presume that he was
a sandwich or two short of a picnic.
Despite such occasional presumptions for almost seventy years Spooner
was a much loved character in the city of Oxford with an opinion that
was highly regarded. He had a successful career as an eloquent and amusing
lecturer on divinity, Aristotle's Ethics, philosophy and ancient history and unconciously won for himself an
enviable reputation as a genial, kindly and hospitable man.
Many so-called Spoonerisms may, in fact, be spurious - the Oxford
Dictionary of Quotations, 2nd edition (1953), went so far as to attribute two famous
sayings to Dr Spooner - (" Kinquering congs their titles take "),
and (" You have deliberately tasted two worms and you can leave Oxford
by the town drain ") but the 3rd edition (1979), gives only one
Spoonerism ("weight of rages"), and says: "Many other Spoonerisms,
such as those given in the previous editions of O.D.Q., are now
known to be apocryphal."
William Archibald Spooner died on 29 August 1930, the father of two sons and five daughters and
the friend and esteemed citizen of a city who loved him. A portrait of Dr Spooner
still hangs in New College to this day.