Monday, January 31, 2011


A version of this article appeared in the Jan 31st Natl Post

Cruel and Unusual Puns
Howard Richler

Was that pun deliberate or accidental? Witticisms that appear to be mere slips of the tongue may instead have been craftily staged. Such is often the case with spoonerisms, named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, Warden of New College in Oxford between 1903 and 1924. Spooner was a highly respected administrator, but instead of honouring him for his forward thinking, we remember him for his linguistic reversals.

It has been reported that Spooner once referred to the hymn “Conquering Kings Their Titles Take” as “kinkering congs,” and introduced Dr. Childe’s friend as “Dr. Friend’s child.” While officiating at a wedding, Spooner supposedly blathered “if anyone present knows why this couple shouldn't be joyfully loined together” and later “it is kisstomary to cuss the bride.”

But the good Reverend’s reversals were not limited to words. At a dinner party he is said to have upset salt and then poured red wine on the salt. One might say that in both words and deeds he “put the heart before the course.”

While not all of Spooner’s gaffes can be substantiated, this did not stop his alleged bloopers from becoming the stuff of legend, particularly among sophomoric Oxonians with “mad banners,”  i.e. “bad manners.”   Spooner’s defenders maintain that some of the alleged howlers attributed to him are a “lack of pies.”  They include:
       A toast which needs no commendation from me our queer Dean. (dear Queen)

       The Lord is a shoving leopard. (loving shepherd)

       You are occupewing the wrong pie. (occupying the  wrong pew) May I sew you to another sheet? (may I show you to another seat)
       You have hissed (missed) all my mystery (history) lectures and tasted two worms.(wasted two terms) I saw you fight( light) a liar.(fire) Pack up your rags (bags) and bugs (rugs), and leave immediately by the town drain. (down train)

What causes these accidental gaffes, when they are indeed accidental? Sigmund Freud considered such slips of the tongue symptomatic of unconscious forces, or of mental conflict deep in the psyche. But Freud's interpretation doesn't account for the majority of gaffes, which are not particularly dramatic, such as saying “right lane” instead of “light rain.” More plausible is the explanation provided by Laurence Goldstein, a philosophy professor at the University of Kent. He believes the errors are “due to interference of the preparatory processing of sounds soon to be produced....We appear to think ahead to the sounds we shall need to make....”

Over time, the spoonerism has permeated popular culture in a myriad of ways.  It has become a popular comedic device: the Monty Python comedy troupe made particularly memorable use of spoonerisms. Who could forget the skit in which a customer walks into a bookshop and asks the proprietor if he has a Sale of Two Titties, by Darles Chickens?

Spoonerisms have also made good titles, to wit:

       Every Little Crook and Nanny – novel by Evan Hunter
       The Hand that Cradles the Rock – collection of poetry by Rita Mae Brown
       Blume in Love  - a 1973 movie directed by Paul Mazursky, starring George Segal

One even finds spoonerisms in song lyrics. In the song Walk On by U2 there is a lyric, “You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been a place that has to be believed to be seen .”  My favourite sung spoonerism, however, is the titled lyric by Randy Hanzlick, I’d  rather have a bottle in front of me than have a frontal lobotomy.

Finally, spoonerisms occasionally produce interestingly ironic definitions.  After reading the following list you might spooneristically ask yourself if you've bred any good rooks lately:

       Alimony –  Bounty from the mutiny 
       Champagne – Sips that passion the night
       Counterfeiter –  A person who earns money the hard way; he makes it
       Hangover – The wrath of grapes
       Psychologist – A person who pulls habits out of rats

So perhaps after reading about spoonerisms, you will now agree with this musing by humourist Robert Schleifer: “It takes brains and creativity to patch a Hun.”

Howard Richler's latest book is Strange Bedfellows; The Private Lives of Words.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

KANGAROO WORDS & answers to last week's puzzle

Have you given any thought as to how Tiger Woods' “transgression”of December 2009 morphed into a “sin” by January 2010?

In Dmitri Borgmann’s Language on Vacation written in 1965, he claims that Australian aborigines practiced a deleted wordplay form that they called “kangaroos” or “marsupials,” because it involved finding smaller words within larger words in the way a kangaroo would carry her infant in her pouch. Because finding hidden words in this manner is not that difficult to accomplish, Borgmann made the process harder by creating the following rules. The two words must be “etymologically unrelated, exact or almost exact synonyms of each other, and so spelled that the letters of the shorter word are scattered through the longer word, not bunched together.” “Story” would not qualify as a “kangaroo” word of history because all its five letters are adjacent. All this might explain why Tiger Woods first said he had committed a “transgression” and afterwards said that he had committed a “sin,” because “sin” is a kangaroo word of “transgression.” Go figure.

Here are some examples of Borgmann's kangaroo words: “Perambulate” from which we extract “ramble,” and “amble” and “chocolate” which yields “hot” and “cocoa.” Richard Lederer, in an article in the magazine Word Ways expanded Borgmann’s list and found fizzing in Budweiser, “beer.” Lederer provides us with several kangaroo twins in this passage: “Open up a “container” and you get a “can” and a “tin.” “When you have “feasted,” you “ate” and have “fed.” A “routine” is both “rote” and a “rut.” Brooding inside “loneliness” are “loss” and “oneness.”

Lederer points out that this process can be reversed. Therefore two or more words can give birth to the same kangaroo word. “Lighted” and “illuminated” both yield “lit”; both “postured” and “positioned” yield “posed”; and “irritated” and “infuriated” both produce ”irate.” Lederer informs us that the champion “marsupial mothers” are the words “lies” and “dead” “Lies” are found in “falsities,” “falsifies,” “fallacies,” “calumnies,” “plagiarizes,” “hyperbolizes” and “reclines.” “Dead” sleeps in “deceased,” “departed,” “deactivated,” “decayed,” “decimated,” “decapitated,” “disintegrated” and “dessicated.”

Lederer allows for kangaroo words to be antonyms as well as synonyms of each other.
Therefore “encourage” gives us “enrage” as well as “urge” ; and “feast” gives us “fast” as well as “eat.” Out of “communicative” we get its antonym “mute,” “courteous” yield its opposite “curt” ; and out of “animosity” we get “amity.”

In this puzzle, I won’t trouble you to find opposites but only words that are synonyms for the ones I have provided,. See how many of these kangaroo words can give birth to baby joeys. For example, secreted away in the word “precipitation” is its synonym “rain.”


Answers to DAMN IDI AMIN PUZZLE of Jan 19th
1)Anais Nin 2)Lillian Gish 3)Barry Gibb 4)Betsy Ross 5)Bill Clinton 6)Bo Diddley 7)Nancy Reagan 8)Deborah Kerr 9)Don Johnson 10)Dalai Lama 11)Donna Karan 12)Dallas Clark 13)Donny Osmond 14)Freddie Mercury 15)Francis Crick 16)Roger Moore 17)George Clooney 18)Mia Hamm 19)Ivan Pavlov 20)Chick Corea 21)Ginger Rogers 22)Lily Tomlin 23)Jennifer Jones 24)Jesse James 25)Jesse Owens 26)Katarina Witt 27)Loretta Swit 28)Mary Travers 29)Margaret Thatcher 30)Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 31)Ansel Adams 32)Robert Burns 33)Pope Pius XII 34)Coco Chanel 35)Pierre Trudeau 36)Anna Paquin 37)Peter Lorre 38)Peter Jennings 39)Peter O’Toole 40)Greg Louganis 41)Prince Philip 42)Ernie Els 43)Barbara Bush 44)Sally Field 45)Scott Turow 46)Sean Penn 47)Steffi Graf 48)Muhammad Ali 49)Yoko Ono 50)Liza Minnelli

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Ach, Scotch spirit not only warms, it burns

Today marks Robert Burns Day and will be commemorated by Scots (and Scot wannabes) world-wide whether they are enjoying a hearty McEwan’s ale or a McCallum single-malt scotch and, alas, even if they are stone-sober. Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, on January 25, 1759 to William Burness, a poor tenant farmer, and Agnes Broun.
When his father died in 1784, Robert and a brother became partners in the farm. Robert, however, was more fascinated by the poem than the plow and after having fathered several illegitimate children, he planned to abandon Scotland and abscond to a Caribbean island. Serendipitously for Scotland, his first collection of verse “Poems-Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” was published at this juncture and received much critical acclaim. He thus remained in his homeland, touring the country before eventually arriving in Edinburgh, where he mingled with the illustrious artists and writers who were blown away by the “Ploughman Poet.”
Jamaican writer Mervyn Morris said some years ago that, “One values greatly the creole because it expresses things about the Jamaican experience which are not available for expressions in the same force in Standard English.”
Burns expressed this same concept when he wrote a letter to friend George Thomson that stated “If you are for English verses , there is, on my part an end of the matter ... I have not that command of the language that I have of my native tongue. In fact, I think my ideas are more barren in English than in Scottish.”
By Burns’ lifetime the ancient Celtic language of the Scots had been reduced to a mere dialect and Burns took it upon himself to resurrect Scots to its halcyon level of yesteryear. Many of Burns’ finest poems are composed, at least partially, in Scots and thus helped re-validate the time-honoured tongue of his forefathers. Burns read the works of his predecessors, Ramsay, Fergusson and others,and he wrote that he had been roused to “string a new my wildly-sounding lyre with emulating vigour.Aside from these influences, Burns was inspired by the folk-songs of the common people that he describes as possessing “a certain happy arrangement of old Scotch syllables.And it is from folk songs that Burns his mastery of the rhythms of Scots. He adopted a turgid unlyrical 17th century song which ran:
Should old acquaintance be forgot/And never thought upon/The flames of love extinguished/And freely past and gone?/Is thy kind heart now grown so cold/In that loving breast of thine,/Than thou canst never once reflect/On old-long-syne?
Burns improved the lyric by simplifying the language and in the process created a visceral and tangible lyric that helps us bring in the new year. His first two verses are:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, /And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,/ And days o' auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp!/ And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,/ For auld lang syne.
The last years of Burns' life were devoted to penning some poems such as A Red, Red Rose, Sweet Afton and Tam O'Shanter. He died when only thirty seven, of a heart disease perhaps exacerbated by the arduous agricultural work he undertook in his early youth.
Here is the opening stanza from Burns’ masterpiece Tam O’Shanter (with translation notes for Scots and archaic English ):
When chapman billies (peddler fellows) leave the street,
drouthy (thirsty) neebors meet;
As market-days are wearing late,
An folk begin to tak the gate;
While we sit
bousing (boozing) at the nappy (strong ale),
An getting
fou (full-drunk) and unco (very) happy,
We think na on the
lang (long) Scots miles,
The mosses, waters,
slaps (gates), and styles,
That lie between us and our
hame (home),
Whare sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
Burns’ simple yet eloquently evocative verse, with its celebration of life, speaks to people everywhere. So let’s all raise a glass of fine single malt in honour of Robert Burns. Personally, though, I’ll forgo the haggis.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

new word puzzle-Damn Idi Amin & answers to last week's puzzle


In this puzzle you are asked to discern famous people where I have eliminated any letter that appears three times in their surname. As to why the title of the puzzle is Damn Idi Amin!, I should explain that I do not bear any particular acrimony towards this former Ugandan dictator. Rather, it is so titled because if you remove the three Is that appear in the name Idi Amin you get “damn.” If there two letters that appear three times, both of them disappear so Anna Kournikova becomes KURIKOV; if there are three letters that appear thrice, they also are taken out. I have also provided the field the individual represents. Thje answer to the first clue (Aiisi, literature) is Anais Nin. Good luck with the balance.

                                     Area of Fame
1)Aaisi                         literature
2)Angsh                       acting
3)Arrygi                       music
4)Betyro                      flag maker
5)Bicinton                    politics
6)Boiley                        music
7)Cyreg                         politics
8)Deboahke                   acting
9)Djhs                            acting
10)Dlilm                        religion
11)Dokr                         fashion
12)Dscrk                       football
13)Dysmd                      music
14)Fddimcuy                 music
15)Franisrik                  science
16)Geme                       acting
17)Grgclny                    acting
18)Iaha                          soccer
19)Ianpalo                     science
20)Ikorea                        music
21)Ineoes                       dancing
22)Iytomin                     comedy
23)Jifrjos                        acting
24)Jjam                           crime
25)Jown                          track
26)Krinwi                       ice skating
27)Loreaswi                    acting
28)Maytaves                     music
29)Mgehche                     politics
30)Mhouhineja                politics
31)Nseldms                     photography
32)Obetbuns                    literature
33)Oeusx                          religion
34)Oohanel                      fashion
35)Pitudau                        politics
36)Pqui                             acting
37)Ptlo                              acting
38)Ptrjigs                          journalism
39)Ptrtl                             acting
40)Relouanis                    diving
41)Rncehl                         royalty
42)Rnils                             golf
43)Rrush                           politics
44)Sayfied                         acting
45)Scoruw                        literature
46)Seape                            acting
47)Steigra                          tennis
48)Uhdli                            boxing
49)Ykn                                art
50)Zamnne                        acting/music

Answers to Movie Trianagrams of Jan 13
1)Dale-deal-lead   2)Lear-real-earl   3)Neal-Lane-Lean   4)Lange-glean-angel
5)Bates-beast-beats    6)Ponti-point-pinto   7)Asner-saner-snare    8)Saint-stain-satin    9)Verne-never-nerve    10)Peters-Streep-preset-pester   11)softer-Foster-Forest    12)garble-Grable-Gabler    13)Hearst-hearts-haters   14)Sandler-slander-Landers     15)rescued-seducer-secured

Thursday, January 13, 2011

You can (mis)quote me on that

A version of this article appeared in the National Post on Jan 10th:

Quotes are usually misquoted and you can quote me on that


Howard Richler

Mea culpa. Several eagle-eyed National Post readers noticed that I had rendered a quote by Alexander Pope incorrectly in my November article on malaprops. Notwithstanding that googling “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing + pope” yields over 100,000 hits, the correct saying is “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” This was the opening line of a little ditty Pope composed in Essay on Criticism; the rest of the stanza being “Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:/There shallow droughts intoxicate the brain,/And drinking largely sobers us again.” Actually, I was aware of this misquotation, but alas, in this instant, perhaps because I'm over sixty, I forgot, and Pope would probably say I drank shallowly.

In my defense, however, I can relate that misquoting famous expressions has a long lineage. In his 1713 play Cato, Joseph Addison wrote “The woman that deliberates is lost.” This was later changed to “she who hesitates is lost” and finally to “He who hesitates is lost.” William Shakespeare turns out not only to be the most quoted person but also the most misquoted. The expression “To gild the lily” was actually rendered by the Bard as “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily”; “Discretion is the better part of valour” was originally “The better part of valour is discretion” and “There’s method in his madness” was actually, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” The phrase “All that glitters is not gold” is often attributed to Shakespeare but the actual phrase in The Merchant of Venice is actually “All that glisters is not gold.” In any case, Shakespeare did not originate the phrase and the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying & Quotation (ODPSQ) states that the expression was used in the early 13th century. Similarly, the expression “Every dog has his day”’ is thought by many to have originated as “The dog will have his day” in Hamlet, but the ODPSQ displays it as a mid 16th century expression and it has been cited as a proverb as early as the 1520s.

There is also the tendency to credit famous people for quotations that they did not originate. For example, W.C. Fields is usually seen as the progenitor of the saying “No man who hates dogs and children can be all bad,” whereas this statement was actually first uttered by a New York Times reporter named Byron Darnton in 1930. Never heard of Darnton? That is exactly the point. Famous words require famous voices in order for them to endure. For example, everyone credits Harry S, Truman for the expression “The buck stops here.” Truman displayed a sign on his desk with this saying in 1945 but recent research has uncovered a photograph bearing the same message on the desk of Army Col. A.B. Warfield in 1942.

Even modern sayings become mangled and misattributed. Andy Warhol’s mantra that everyone enjoys “fifteen minutes of fame,” was originally rendered by the artist in 1968 as “in the future everybody would be world famous for fifteen minutes.” It is commonly believed that former NFL coach Vince Lombardi said that “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Actually, it was UCLA football coach Red Sanders who coined “Sure, winning isn’t everything; It’s the only thing.”

Ralph Keyes wrote a book on misquotes that he titled Nice Guys Finish Seventh because former baseball manager Leo Durocher's maxim that “nice guys finish last” was rendered by Durocher in seventh place, not last. Keyes claims that ever since cavemen and cave-women have quoted, they have screwed up the quotes. Keyes states that “as a general rule, Misquotes drive out real quotes. This is the Immutable Law of Misquotation. Misquotation takes three basic forms: 1) putting the wrong words in the right mouth; 2)putting the right words in the wrong mouth; and 3)putting the wrong words on the wrong mouth.”

So dear erudite National Post readers, please forgive my misquoting Pope. Actor/director Hesketh Pearson said that “Misquotation is…the pride and privilege of the learned. A widely-read man never quotes accurately, for the rather obvious reason that he reads too widely.”

Howard R ichler's latest book is
Strange Bedfellows: The Private Lives of Words.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


The puzzle is called Trianagrams because the puzzler has to fill in at least three words in each sentence that are  anagrams to each other.  For example, if the clue read "In his movie Jailhouse Rock   _____       _______    the life of a ____-clad rock star,"   you would have to fill in,   "Elvis,"   "lives,"  and "Levis."   As an added clue, I will tell you that the missing words become longer as the puzzle progresses.  Good luck solving Trianagrams-Movies & Movie Stars.
1)____ didn't think it was a big ____ that she shared the ____ with Roy and

Trigger in Bells of San Angelo.

2)Producer of Fried Green Tomatoes _____ didnt realize that the tea guy

Grey was a ______          ______.

3)Neither Patricia _____ nor Nathan ____ ever starred in a movie directed by

David _____.

4)In Music Box ____ plays a lawyer defending her father who is accused of

being a Nazi sympathizer. Eventually she is able to ___ than he is no _____.

5)In the movie Misery, Kathy _____ plays the role of a ______ of a woman

who ______ a bedridden author.

6)After ____ bought her a horse, Sophia said, “What's the _____ , Carlo? We

have no place to keep the _____.”

7)In Fort Apache The Bronx, Ed ____ plays a cop that while ___ than many of

his peers, he falls into the ___ of bogus arrests in order to catch a cop killer.

8)When she accepted an award for her role in On The Waterfront, ____ got a

_____ on her _____ dress.

9)Unlike Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days, (based on the book by

____) I have ____ had the ___ to travel in a hot air balloon.

10)Bernadette _____ and Meryl _______ met at a _______ time to avoid fans

likely to ______ them.

11)We see the softer side of _____  in the movie Panic Room in which she

costars with  _____     Whitaker.
12)Tom had a tendency to _____ his words so I thought he said “ _____ ”as in

“Betty” where in fact he said _____ as in “Hedda.”

13)Magnate W.R. _____ had broken many _____ and although he had many

admirers he also had many _____.

14)Adam ______ claimed it was _____ to say he preferred Abby Van Buren

over Ann _____.

15)In Robin Hood, Robin (Crowe) _____ Marion (Blanchett) from her

would-be ____ and thus   ______ her innocence.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Here are the answers to the puzzle of Jan 5th.


For movie buffs, check out my puzzle tomorrow entitled TRIANAGRAMS-MOVIES & MOVIE STARS

Wednesday, January 5, 2011



This puzzle is called Trianagrams because the puzzler has to fill in the three words in each sentence or phrase that are anagrams to each other. For example, if the clue read “Now that Darryl was mired in a ____, he had to take his ____ from the fans. One hollered, “Hey Strawberry what happened? Did you lose your _____ and pears,” you would have to fill in the words “slump,” “lumps” and “plums.” As an added help to solve these sport Trianagrams, I will tell you that the missing words get longer as the puzzle progresses. Good luck!

1) The ____ sprinter in the outside ____ terminated each race with great _____.

2)The Buffalo hockey player exposed the gambling scheme of the Chicago football players. The headline read “ _____ _____ _____.”

3)In the playoffs, the Yankee didn`t ____ his position well and he ____ out to end the series but the next day he ____ for free agency.

4)On some baseball _____ players let off _____ by playing practical jokes on their _____.

5)Rickey could ______ better than anyone else on the team but was resented because his bragging ______ had become very _____.

6)The Indiana _____ were able to _______ out a victory over the L.A. Lakers notwithstanding their outrageous _______.

7)After Isaiah scored forty _____ for the first time as a _____, he bought two _____ for his kids` use at his ranch.

8)Eric would ______ around the oval like a phantom. This great ____ dared his rivals to beat him at any distance but there were no takers.

9)The Astro ballplayers had a _____ mien than the Mets, _____ , or Giants because their _______ were longer.

10)The _______ of Sports Illustrated reported that the _______ sprinter had used an illegal _______.

11)Reggie Jackson ______ to be _______ , if he was booed he would be cast into deep ______.