Articles by Stan Dean

Words That Define Us

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You may or may not know the name, William Archibald Spooner. He lived from 1844 to 1930 and was quite well known in England. He was a minister and mainstay at Oxford University for many years. However, history records his legacy not so much as a minister or university lecturer, but for a peculiar quirk in his speaking. He often jumbled his words in a comical fashion whether preaching or lecturing. He was so prone to do so that his name was used to coin the word “spoonerism.”

A “spoonerism” is when a speaker “accidentally transposes the initial sounds or letters of two or more words, often to humorous effect.” There are many speaking blunders accredited to Spooner. Whether they are all legitimate or not, no one knows for sure. But here are a few of the more popular ones: “The Lord is a shoving leopard” for “The Lord is a loving shepherd;” another, “You have hissed all my mystery lectures” for “You have missed all my history lectures,” and the perennial favorite, “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride” for “It is customary to kiss the bride.”

Each time I read one of these it causes me to smile- - but in all honesty it also brings a little pain too. As a public speaker I have made my fair share of speaking gaffes and I know how easily these mistakes can be made. But I do hope these faux pas will not define me when I am dead and gone.
Thinking about spoonerisms made me consider how there are individuals throughout history who have their character defined be a few words they spoke. For example, who is not familiar with Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death?” or with Truman’s “The buck stops here.”
The same is true with some statements made by individuals in the Bible. Consider the words of Joshua. As the Israelites were settling into the Land of Canaan, Joshua stood before the leaders of the tribes and spoke courageously, “Choose you this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Other defining statements are also recorded in the Bible that are not at all flattering like those of the Roman Governor, Felix. When he was presented with the Good News that would have taken him to heaven he responded: “Go away for now; when I have a more convenient time I will call for you” (Acts 24:25).

So, I wonder, what words have you and I uttered that would define us spiritually? Would they be more in line with those of Joshua... or Felix?

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