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I often dream of words or phrases which I recognize as jokes or riddles after I wake up. The other night it was “morny in the earling,” which happens to be right about the time I have this sort of dream. But perhaps I only remember my dreams when they come in the hour or two before waking.

“Morny in the earling” sounds a bit Edward Lear. It is a Spoonerism, “an error in speech or a play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels or morphemes are exchanged.” I love these. Here are a few famous ones attributed to old Spooner himself, a Warden of New College, Oxford who died in 1930:

“Three cheers for our queer old dean!”
“Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?”
“The Lord is a shoving leopard.”
(addressing farmers) “Ye noble tons of soil…”
(to a student) “You have tasted a whole worm!”


The Rev. Spooner. He had albinism and consequently very weak eyes, which did not prevent him from working at Oxford for 60 very amusing years.

My all time favorite is the title of a hymn which Spooner mangled: “When Kinkering Congs Their Titles Take.” But I have myself witnessed a Spoonerism that was just as good. A nervous fellow once came a courting on a hot summer’s day in the Deep South, and told my mother and me how refreshing it is “to drink a titcher of iced pee.”

Another verbal oddity which I recently dreamt was entirely different, but almost as amusing. I woke up thinking “Can I Ciarán Hinds until I need glasses?” which sounds like gibberish. Unless you happen to be a Robin Williams fan. And then it makes perfect sense.

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The late, great Robin Williams in his screen debut, 1977’s “Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses?” It was the sequel to “If You Don’t Stop It, You’ll Go Blind.” He had two very brief scenes in this film.

Millcote Hill

Samantha Morton wants to Ciarán Hinds until she needs Serious Lasik. From “Jane Eyre” (1997).