There’S A Funny Story I’D Like To Tell, But I Don’T Think I Can ...

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Well-l-l-l ...

Maybe I can, Johnny. Maybe I just can. Had a brainstorm.

I learned everything I know about grammar, punctuation, literature, and whatnot in my high school sophomore year English class. We had the world’s best teacher. That man taught us everything there was to know. 

Except for one thing.

How to remember the name of your sophomore year English teacher.

Yeah. Forgot it. Can you beat that? 

Anyway, every time I began to think there was nothing more that man could teach us he came up with something even better — “better” being more fun, more interesting, or more useful.

I am still reading short stories, books — and even poems believe it or not — by people he told us about. It was from him I learned about Edgar Allan Poe. It was from him I learned that Ogden Nash was the funniest writer who ever lived. I got hooked on Kipling, Steven Vincent Benet, James Thurber, James Hilton, Joseph Conrad, and a dozen others in his class. If I walked into my little den right now and stuck out a hand I would hit a book written by someone I learned about in his class.

What a teacher!

But to get to the point ...

One thing that teacher told us about was spoonerisms, named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, Warden of New College, Oxford, who always claimed it was a bad rap. I think that using a spoonerism may allow me to tell you that little story I couldn’t otherwise tell you, but first I have to explain what a spoonerism is.

Spoonerisms work like this: You go to say something and accidentally transpose the first few letters of a couple of words. For example, one that gets blamed on the good reverend is this one, spoken in church one day:

“Mardon me padom, but you’re pewing in my sit.”

And this one, “I now pronounce you man and wife. It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.” 

Not to mention, “The Lord is a shoving leopard.”

I heard a famous spoonerism with my own ears during World War II when Edward R. Murrow, an ultra-reserved commentator, was reporting from England. I’ve already told you this, but I’ll repeat it quickly.

Murrow was about to interview Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the British War Office, and in his usual deep, solemn tones he said, “Today ladies and gentlemen we will be talking with Sir Stifford Crapps.”

For a moment there was dead silence.

Then we heard something that sounded like a bull strangling on a dishrag. It went on for a while. Then, on the air, live, and all the way across the Atlantic from England, Edward R. Murrow broke up. Did he ever!

OK, you get the idea. Now for the story that started all this:

Back in the 1930s, an American doctor visited a centuries-old temple in Outer Mongolia. The temple was dedicated to the Sacred Foo Bird. Flying in and out of holes near the ceiling of the temple was an endless number of the small purple birds. To the doctor’s surprise, spread over the floor, benches, statues, altar, and everything else in sight — including the temple priests — were Foo Bird droppings.

While looking around — and doing his best not to step in something, the doctor noticed a young Mongolian lad come in and light a joss stick. Just as a thin line of aromatic smoke rose from the joss stick one of the Sacred Foo Birds flew over the young lad and dropped a load on his shoulder. The boy casually reached out with his fingers and brushed the stuff off. An instant later his eyes rolled up, he grabbed at his throat, uttered a stifled cry, and collapsed on the ancient tiles of the temple.

The American doctor started to rush to the boy’s aid, but one of the temple priests restrained him. “It is no use, my son,” the priest said sadly. “It is too impossible to save the boy.”

“B-B-But why?”

“It is an ancient Law of Life, my son. When the shoo fits, wear it.”

Well, that’s not quite what he said, Johnny, but if you think in terms of spoonerisms ...

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