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Articles About Storytelling

Why Word Play?
By: Carol Ann Esterreicher

Let’s lighten up! “Tickle” that tale and enjoy word play with your waiting audiences!

The fact that many (MANY!) versions of Rindercella and the Slass Glipper are rampant among people who enjoy a twist to a standard tale is only one of many reasons why playing with the words of a story survives as a national pastime. First, composing such literary gems sparks the creativity of word wizard wannabes. It’s just plain playful fun!

The Reverend W.A. Spooner, a minister and a professor at Oxford, England in the early 19th century, is reputed to have had a speech disorder (called metathesis). He often reversed and rearranged sounds and syllables resulting in embarrassing circumstances.
They say he accused a student of “hissing” his “mystery” lesson! And on one occasion when he was to toast the Queen of England at a fancy dinner, they say he toasted the “Queer Dean!” If you were late to his church service he might offer to sew you to a sheet!

For generations storytellers have enjoyed employing “spoonerisms” in their telling. Radio announcers such as Colonel Stoopnagle in the 1940’s and authors like Keen James (2) who has resurrected Stoopnagle’s work, have entertained audiences with this delightful foolishness! Keen’s book cover includes praise from a nine-year old who calls this work a beasing plook. Popular authors such as Silverstein (5) have emulated the former living legend, the Reverend W.A. Spooner

So the creative craft of playing with words continues as its educational value emerges!
As a former speech and language pathologist, Carol is uniquely appreciative of the value of word analysis and sound/syllable sequencing that support intelligible speech. Students, who learn how to manipulate the elements of words, likewise learn how to speak those otherwise troublesome words. In her workshops, Carol takes them a few important steps beyond mere “phonological awareness.” Fifth and sixth graders (on the last day of a school year) created abbreviated versions (8-10 sentences) of five standard tales including Red Riding Hood (flicking powers in the woods) and Hansel and Gretel (leaving a brail of tread crumbs).

Expanded Word Play—Not Just Spoonerisms!

Applied Imagination was Alex Osborn’s (4) distinctive approach to education. He suggested numerous strategies that Michael LeBoef (3) subsequently promoted in his work he characterized as “Imagineering.” Esterreicher (1) has put Osborn’s and LeBoeuf’s concepts to creative uses In SCAMPER Strategies. You can find a collection of creative strategies to apply to words: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify/Minimize, Put to other use, Eliminate, and Reverse/Rearrange. The book is still available from and Carol generously shares much of her material as handouts in her workshops for school personnel and volunteer tutors. Spoonerisms employ the reverse/rearrange strategy. So spoonerisms are just “the tip of the iceberg.”

As a storyteller, Carol has performed Rindercella and the Prandsome Hince at numerous story festivals and in schools. Another tale, The Three Piddle Ligs was shared with students at Springdale Elementary during Zion’s Storytelling Festival (May, 2007) in Springdale, Utah. Carol’s first version was told as long ago as 1966! So many people have taken pleasure in the “tips of the slung” that this tale encourages! Appreciative audiences have included little children, parents and grandparents, as well as students and their teachers. Carol entertained the audience at the first annual Kanab, UT Storytelling Festival (October, 2007) with her unexpected telling of Beeping Sleauty! Spoonerisms are just one of many word play options that can “tickle” a tale! Think about it! Explore the options!

From Canada and the United States, numerous requests have been received for Carol’s “spoonerized” tale, The Three Piddle Ligs. The PDF can be downloaded off her web site: on the What’s New button. This article summarizes only one of the many word play strategies are best applied to the classic tales after being assured that a specific audience already has some version the standard tale embedded in their memories. That story they already know serves as a framework for understanding the intermittent spoonerisms of the “tickled” tale.

Considerations and Cautions

The storyteller needs to recognize that our written language often does not conform consistently to our spoken language. Therefore it sometimes becomes troublesome to convey a delightful “spoonerized” spoken story into written form—although it can be done. Written stories I have read by other authors often become difficult to translate into enjoyable spoken experiences and often include too many "spoonerized" words that overwork the reader and dilute the enjoyment that is conveyed during a spoken storytelling experience.

Presenting a tale told in spoonerisms requires more than just a little consideration for the audience’s needs. First, verify that the audience actually is familiar with the characters and story line of the tale. Second, be advised that only a few words intermittently “spoonerized” will create the desired humorous effect without overworking and tiring the audience. The delightful twists of occasional spoonerisms are entertaining and often elicit amusement, a smile, a giggle, and often outright rowdy laughter. Third, give your audience time to listen, translate, and respond. Share in their enjoyment. Step aside from the story and clarify as needed. It’s o.k. for you to laugh at the funny parts with the audience. Remember that storytelling is interactive! Fourth, be ready to enjoy answering questions and to listen to others tell you some spoonerisms as they visit with you after your performance! Questions such as “how do you do that?” are routine among the comments after an audience has interacted with the storyteller’s “tickled” version of a standard tale.

Why Word Play? Why Not!

It’s playful and delightfully interactive fun as the storyteller adapts to audience responses! Word Play precipitates a welcomed social exchange as audience members recall other tales they’ve heard or told to others themselves. Word play requires sound and symbol analysis and sequencing which has important educational value for word recognition and spelling! Remember to explore the strategies Carol teaches and demonstrates in her SCAMPER strategies workshops where she makes her tutorial CDs available to participants.

(1) Esterreicher, Carol (1995). SCAMPER Strategies—Fundamental Activities for Narrative Development. Eau Claire WI: Thinking Publications.

(2) James, Keen (2000). Stoopnagle’s Tale is Twisted—Spoonerisms Run Amok.
Sherman Oaks, California: Stone and Scott Publishers.

(3) LeBoeuf, Michael. (1980). Imagineering. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

(4) Osborn, Alex. (1953). Applied Imagination (revised). New York: Charles Scribner’s

(5) Silverstein, Shel. (2005). Runny Babbit-A Billy Sook.. HarperCollins Publishers.

(Posted 10/2007)

Author Information:
Name: Carol Ann Esterreicher
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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