Issues in Interpreting: Toungled Tangs

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Do you sometimes find yourself in a muddle with words when speaking? Nervousness can affect even the best of linguists when interpreting. However, if, like me, you get yourself in a linguistic tangle from time to time, you may be relieved to hear that the phenomenon has a name and is very common across a wide range of languages. As providers of expert translation and interpreting services, we are always interest in interesting areas of language such as this.

A spoonerism is a linguistic quirk where corresponding consonants, vowels or morphemes are switched. The phenomenon is named after Reverend William Spooner, who was notorious for his linguistic slip-ups, but you may also hear it referred to as a marrowsky, in reference to a Polish count with a similar affliction. Spoonerisms can be errors in speech, perhaps when interpreting, but they are also used deliberately as a play on words by journalists and other writers for humorous effect.

Here are a few examples of English spoonerisms:

A lack of pies (A pack of lies)

Mean as custard (Keen as mustard)

The Danish term for spoonerism is “bakke snagvendt”, which is itself a spoonerism of “snakke bagvendt” (i.e. talk backwards), and in Swedish, it is common to refer to the quirk as “bala taklänges”, which translates into “beaking spackwards”.

In Spanish, if you hear an unintentional spoonerism, it is common to hear “Se me lenguó la traba (my stuck got tongued),” a spoonerism of “Se me trabó la lengua” (my tongue got stuck).

Here is how “spoonerism” is expressed in a few other languages:

French: contrepèterie

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German: Schüttelreim

Greek: Σαρδάμ

Polish: spuneryzm

Finnish: sananmuunnos

Have you had any linguistic mishaps when interpreting? If you have any spoonerisms to share with us, please do!

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