I have a relative (anonymity requested) who regularly creates sentences that sound fine in her head but when they emerge from her mouth contain unintended or mixed-up words that can either render the sentence meaningless or amusing, or both.

Here are some examples. She once finished an argument with what she triumphantly thought was the decisive question “How would you like it if the foot was on the other shoe?” which had the unintended consequence of causing the object of her anger (me) to collapse in fits of laughter. After complaining of a pain in her wrist, she announced “I think I’ve got repetitive arm syndrome.” She wanted to listen to her radio so asked “Do you mind if I put my headstones on?” We were watching some football. Bored, she asked “is it half-term yet?” Yes, she meant half-time.  Recounting a debt collection documentary she had watched, she announced “In the end they had to send the bayleaves round.”  She once saw an expensive house and commented “ooh look at that house, it has a lovely conservative at the back.”

TV programmes do not escape her verbal mangling. Keen to catch a comedy TV show, she said “I need to get home so I can watch Have I Been Framed For You.”  Then there was the time I was trying to end a phone call to her so I could watch World’s Strongest Man. She guessed this and said “I suppose you want to watch The World’s Biggest Man now?”, which would be a very short programme as all you would need are some scales and a tape measure. Driving past an army range on the moors once, she asked ‘”isn’t this land owned by the Mystery of Defence?” Another time there was noise on the line as I phoned her and she explained this by saying “yes, there are some workman out there digging up the road with their dramatic drills.” Her latest mis-speak was to bemoan an ache in her arm by declaring “I think I’ve got that Tennyson Elbow.”

Of course the most famous exponent of word-mangling was the Rev Spooner, who lent his name to the practice of swapping the first syllables of two adjacent words. When toasting Queen Victoria he was rumoured to have come up with “three cheers for our queer old dean!”  and, upon dropping his hat, once upped his mangling factor by asking “will nobody pat my hiccup?”. He once ended a wedding he was conducting by advising “it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.” Another good example, from the late 1940s, was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, was introduced by a radio announcer as ‘Sir Stifford Crapps’.

Why is it that some people’s brains work like this and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes? Indeed my relative feels that the more mistakes she makes, the worse she gets, as she starts getting flustered before she speaks. As she herself says “It’s a vicious circus.”

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