Tuesday, April 6, 2010


My friend and colleague, Mike, collects malapropisms, spoonerisms, neologisms,* and other twisted word forms. When I say, “collects,” I mean he has an ear for them, and his agile mind seems to attract them and call them forth at just the right occasion. This is amusing to me, but also somewhat dangerous, because one’s speech can become infected with these verbal viri, and if one is not careful, they can lodge themselves in the language ports of the brain. (Back when I lived in St. Paul, there was a storefront on a prominent corner that for years had a large, professionally produced sign in the window that read, “Aikido Cetner.”  I smiled when I saw it, but my friend, Jeff – another wit – picked it up and began using it in fun, until it stuck – and infected me. And now I have to use some mental energy to avoid referring to places such as the Community Cetner, the Faith and Life Cetner, and the Children’s Reading Cetner.)

But back to Mike’s collection. If this were a game, one of the rules would be that you have to overhear or accidentally produce the words – you can’t make them up. Surely Mike wouldn’t stoop to making any of these up. (Some of what follows is inside clergy humor -- we preachers are a laugh riot! -- so I’ll provide the code.)

Without casting any asparagus on anyone, it seems odd that we would want our prayers to come before God as insects (incense). Maybe they’re the insects that follow the communion elephants (elements) which Jesus and the disciples used at “The Last Dinner.”

During acolyte instruction the kids were told that they would collect the offering just before the communion hymn. “What’s a nymn?” said one of the acolytes. Another infection: I know that it’s only a matter of time before I announce the “nymn of the day” at a worship service. And we always try to sing the psalm responsibly (responsively). If we don’t, perhaps it means we need to spend more time with the choirpractor.

I was once informed by a bride that during the wedding she and the groom would light the “utility candle.” Perhaps,” says Mike, “it means it was a marriage of convenience.”

Pastor Mike does a good job of keeping these oddities in check during public worship. (Although there was that time he announced, at the end of the service, that everyone was invited to the Fellowship Hall for “happy hour, er… I mean… coffee hour.” What does he think we are? Episcopalians?)

My favorite has nothing to do with church: “Vengetables.” It’s kind of subtle. I wonder, if you force your children to eat their vengetables, will they then throw up revengetables?



*A malapropism is named after Mrs. Malaprop, a character in a play by Sheridan (1775). It is usually a substitution of one word for a similar sounding word, resulting in a comic or nonsense effect. ("Forget this fellow; illiterate him from your memory.")

A spoonerism is a word formed by reversing syllables or letters to form a humorous reflection of the intended word. It is named after an actual person, the Rev. Dr. Wm. Spooner of Oxford (1844-1930), who had the reputation of using the form frequently. ("The Lord is a shoving leopard.")

A neologism is a newly-formed word which may or may not be on its way to being accepted. It is not necessarily funny. I have a 1965 dictionary in which "glitch" and "jumbo jet" are listed in the new words section.

p.s. My friend, Warren, refers to my blog title as "Eavesdropping in the Asparagus."


Joseph G. Crippen said...

Second attempt at this comment (hit a strange "we can't do this" thing on blogspot): Our lovely secretary of the home congregation once printed the typo that Judy was "organsit" for the day - which my mother promptly and irrevocably adopted as her reference for the church musician du jour. Because it's oddly appropriate, right? Also, on the news some years ago after flooding on the Mississippi, some St. Louis TV station's "man on the street" was interviewing a poor sod about the fact that his house was underwater. Said poor sod: "There's derbis everywhere." That derbis - you can't get rid of it easily.

Richard Jorgensen said...

Joseph: I love adding to this collection. "Organsit" is perfect. Dick

Michael said...

Dick, I'm honored! And I do think we are a laugh riot.

Becky Hanson said...

Romeo and Juliet is an example of a heroic couplet. Romeo's last wish was to get laid by Juliet.

Jeep said...

My former colleague, Paul Larsen, got me referring to the service on the Saturday before Easter as the Easter Virgil. I now have to make a conscious decision not to use this phrase. It just comes out.