15 September 2011


The recent big news at Apple, Inc. is the resignation of Steve Jobs as CEO.  Taking over Jobs' spot is the Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cook.  As a Mac-head, I follow Apple news daily so I am familiar with the name "Tim Cook".  The average person may not know who Cook was but now he will.

What is so special about Tim Cook's name?  It is what I call a spoonie - by switching the non-consonant parts of the names you can make a somewhat meaningful phrase, i.e. "Took Him" from "Tim Cook".  Even better, you can make the 4-word phrase "Tim Cook Took Him", perhaps as an answer to the question "Where is the tomcat?"  Like palindromes, spoonies can be very contrived.   Note that I took the liberty to introduce the "kim" sound, just because "Cim" looks ambiguous and probably gets pronounced as "sim" or "chim", whatever that means.

Some of you may already know the word "spoonerism" is the proper term for the word play I described.  I decided to make up the shorter word just because it is just that - shorter.  "Spoonie" may have a dirty meaning in slang but slang is so rich I suspect most normal words have a dirty counterpart in the slang world.  Be sophisticated and rely less on slang words!

As a multi-syllabic language, English is not that great for making meaningful spoonies.  The few that I know are
  • crushing blow <=> blushing crow
  • popcorn <=> porn cop (a member of the vice squad?)
  • take a look <=> took a lake (something a large creature like Godzilla can do?)
Spoonies are very popular in Vietnamese since the language is mono-syllabic.  Every original Vietnamese word has only one syllable.  "Saigon", the older but more popular name for the capital city of the former South Vietnam, was made so to look foreign and exotic.  (Ho Chi Minh City, or Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh, is the official name.)  There is beauty in being mono-syllabic.  Words can be safely uttered without worrying about where one syllable ends and where the next begins.  Think "nowhere" - which syllable take the "W"?  Is it pronounced "no where" or "now here"?  Sure, having words spanning many syllables can be fun for poets and such, but for daily conversation, mono-syllables are great to have.

There are many Vietnamese jokes and phrases made from spoonies but after years of not using it enough, or reading Vietnamese, I do not remember that many but still enough for a blog entry.  Soccer, or "đá banh", is a popular sport in Vietnam.  The spoonie of "đá banh" is "đánh ba", or "to beat up one's father", a big no-no in Vietnam, where children are supposed to have high respect for their parents.  Similarly, "đá chanh", or lemonade, can become "đánh cha", where "cha" is another word for "father".  Along the fatherhood line, "tắm ỉa", or take a dump right before taking a shower, is a spoonie of "tía ẩm", where "tía" is a more endearing term for "father" and "ẩm" means to carry or cradle.  Enough with fathers and their issues...  If you speak Viet and know a Viet person, ask them if they know "con Hương bên đèo", which sounds like a woman named "Hương" who lives by a hill (đèo).  In reality, it is a spoonie for "con heo bên đường", or "the pig by the road".  Likewise, "con Chín bến đò" may sound like a lady, ranked eighth in the family so she's usually known as Number 9 (since the first-born is called #2), switch things around and you have "con chó bến đình", or "the dog by the temple"!  Lastly, many Chinese in Vietnam have roots in the Chaozhou region of China.  Ask a Viet you know if "ngầu lôi tăng kể" sounds like teochew (or Chaozhou language) and the person may agree.  In reality, the phrase is just a spoonie of "ngồi lâu tê cẳng", or "having sleepy legs from sitting too long".

Of course to really appreciate all these word-plays you need to speak the Vietnamese language.  No promise, but I may, might, remotely possible, make a vlog or video log, where I record myself uttering these nonsensical phrases for entertainment purpose.  A very iffy idea.  Writing is hard enough already, videotaping (even without tape) with all the editing and text overlay is even harder, so don't hold your breath.