Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

If the pastor says “The Lord is a shoving leopard” when he means to say “loving shepherd,” that’s a spoonerism, a transposition of syllables that is funny to everyone but the speaker. The name comes from William Archibald Spooner, an Oxford professor who, according to the stories his students loved to tell, was constantly (and unintentionally) saying things like that.

History’s most famous spoonerism may be the embarrassing blooper of a nervous radio announcer who introduced to a national listening audience “the Duck and Doochess of Windsor”!

We laugh in self-defense; our tongues have tripped us up, too. But far more serious than the trips are the traps of the tongue. Lies, gossip, harsh words, unloving criticism, even foolish or impetuous comments are all traps laid by the tongue for the careless or uncaring speaker.

James knew the dangers of the tongue. He called it “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). Christ knew it too. He insisted that our speech is more important than kosher dietary laws, because people are more defiled by what comes out of the mouth than what goes in (see Matt. 15:11).

Experts tell us that an articulate person may speak up to 30,000 words a day. That’s a fair-sized book, and every book needs an editor. I understand the Holy Spirit is available.

Watch your words.

Bob Black is professor emeritus of religion at Southern Wesleyan University, where he served for thirty-two years. He co-authored the denominational history, The Story of The Wesleyan Church.

© 2020 Wesleyan Publishing House. Reprinted from Light from the Word. Used by permission. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®.