The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 17, 2002


A.E. Benfield (Ben) of West Street originally was a columnist for the Carlisle Gazette. Once the Mosquito and the Gazette merged in 1983, Benfield continued to submit his columns to the Mosquito. Benfield, a physicist, and former professor of physics, was chairman of the Carlisle Conservation Commission during the '60s and '70s.

This is one in a series of articles that will appear from time to time as we approach the 30th anniversary of our newspaper on August 2, 2002.

Rev. William Archibald Spooner

The Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930) was a British academic who became warden (that is, president) of New College, Oxford. New College is one of Oxford University's famous colleges; it was founded exactly six hundred years ago by William of Wykeham in 1379 (it was new in the fourteenth century!). One doesn't rise to become its warden without having considerable academic distinction.

However, the Reverend Spooner has been remembered not so much for his scholarly. accomplishments as for his tendency to express himself in an erratic manner.

Over two years ago, in this space, I wrote a bit about spoonerisms, which are unwitting transpositions of sounds in speech, deriving their name from this man. Examples are: to say that somebody who has suffered a great misfortune has received "a blushing crow," instead of a crushing blow, or on a wet day to say "it's roaring with pain" instead of pouring with rain.

Forty and 50 years ago, when I was living in England, people were still talking about Spooner with amusement; and it seems they still are, because I have recently heard two more stories about him. The Reverend Spooner's problems when expressing himself were evidently not restricted to simple transpositions in speech, but sometimes went deeper. He may have been a rather nervous and absent-minded man who caused unintentional embarrassment and/or amusement by speaking more quickly than he could think.

According to one story, not long after the First World War, Spooner met one of two brothers with whom he had been slightly acquainted before the war. He didn't know them well but had perhaps met them once or twice or had heard about them. One of these brothers had lost his life in action during the war. After talking to the survivor for a little while, Dr. Spooner hesitated and said, "Please excuse me, but I never can remember, was it you or was it your brother who was killed in the war?"

The other story has to do with a small get-together which Dr. Spooner decided to give for the fellows (faculty, we would say) of the college, in order to meet a newly-elected fellow. He didn't send out formal invitations, but simply invited each fellow individually, when he met him, with words something like this, "We have a newly- elected fellow - I forget his name - but do come to my rooms Thursday if you can, I'd like you to meet him." When Dr. Spooner repeated this invitation to one young fellow, the man looked a little uncomfortable and said, "But you know, sir, I am the new fellow," to which Dr. Spooner replied, "Oh well, never mind, do come anyway."

Dr. Spooner, I imagine, was more successful as a scholar than in everyday conversation.

Ed. note: This article that first appeared in the Carlisle Gazette, October 19, 1979 is reprinted from The Carlisle Mosquito, June 16,1989.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito