Sporks and Foons

When I was 7 and sitting at the dinner table, I asked my mom who was busily shuttling plates of food from stove to table if she could please hand me a spork and foon. She and my dad chuckled, but I guffawed after realizing my error. “How did that happen?” I thought to myself. “And why is it so funny sounding?” I wondered what exactly a spork or a foon would look like. (This was long before I learned that the term ‘spork‘ actually existed, coined likely in the early 1900’s and eventually patented as a bona fide utensil* in 1969.) To my 7-year-old ears, those words just sounded hilarious, and I marveled at how I managed to produce them without any effort – they just came out of my mouth.

This was just the beginning of my love affair with language. Around the same time I found myself ruminating on** why some people pronounced ‘often’ /off.tin/ and others /off.in/, but more intriguingly why they both sounded acceptable to my ear. Why hadn’t my English teacher ever pointed that out?

It wasn’t more than a year later that I taught myself how to roll my r’s Spanish-style in an attempt to imitate my Mexican-born father who had a rather heavy accent in English. I discovered that if I said the word ‘dad’ over and over, rapidly tapping and releasing my tongue on the last d against the ridge on the roof of my mouth, I was getting closer and closer to trilling my r’s just like my dad-d-d-d. In no time flat, I was producing a pretty decent Mexican r.

Spork and foon stuck with me through adolescence, and when I was about 13 my best friend and I started transposing the initial consonants of two words in this fashion for amusement. We became quite adept at this – my friend (to this day) more so than I*** – to the point that we could complete entire sentences flipping pairs of words fluidly and with little effort. It wasn’t until English class my junior year of high school that I learned this linguistic device/phenomenon is called a spoonerism, named after an Englishman, William Spooner. My teacher at the time told us that Spooner’s favorite was apparently “the queer old dean” for the “dear old queen,” which stirred a chuckle in me because my teacher was a dear old queen himself, but I digress. I made him laugh in kind when I blurted out, “That’s what that’s called? I love oonerspisms!”

Henceforth my little game with words that my buddy and I had been playing for years had a name. That was 20 years ago. We live on opposite ends of the country now; but to this day, when we get together, talk on the phone, text, email or Facebook we spook in speenerisms. And man have we produced some funny ones over the years. This is a place for me to record and share them, as well as other linguistic oddities, observations and musings.

* The best spork on the market, and a must for backpackers.
** “ruminating about” sounds okay, too. Prepositions tend to be unstable, especially idiomatic or figurative ones.
*** ‘me’ just sounds so much better here


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