de(tales): muddled words

de(tales): muddled words

Bronwyn has been an internet friend for a long while. I've loved getting to know her, and found her to be so encouraging and kind. Last year, we had the chance to meet in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing. She is just as lovely in person. Her writing is beautifully observed, and this piece is a wonderful example of that quality. Enjoy, friends. 

My Oupa loved words, and he loved us with words, too.

Oupa, found deep in thought on the deep blue couch with the newspaper stretched on his lap, would snap out of his reverie as his granddaughters piled up next him. “Tell us a story!” we would chorus, and setting his paper down he would begin: “Let me tell you the one about Beeping Sleuty.”

“Noooooo!” we would roar. “It’s SLEEPING BEAUTY!”

“Oh, oh, oh,” he would correct in mock horror, “maybe I should tell you about the Dugly Uckling, then?”

“Nooooo!” we cried, well-versed in our lines. “It’s the UGLY DUCKLING, Oupa!”

“Well, have you heard the one about Bali Aba and the Thorty Fieves?”

“It’s ALI BABA! And the FORTY THIEVES!” we’d yell, giddy with self-righteousness.

“Umm. I don’t think I know any of your fairy tales,” he’d muse. “What about… Whow Snight and the Deven Swarves?”


I learned at school that this had a name. These delights were spoonerisms, times when you got your mords wuddled. Oupa , never once to mince his words in his public responsibilities, would wuddle his mords on purpose for the sheer delight of his grandchildren.

It was at the breakfast table a few years later, watching Oupa peel an apple almost absent-mindedly in a single, long, lazy spiral, that he invited me into the next level of word play. The newspaper laid out on the table before him this time, he scooched the pages in my direction. “Would you like to help me with my cryptic crossword?” he asked. “Each clue has two clues hidden in it: one clue is a synonym, and then the other clue has a back up riddle: either an anagram or another word puzzle. When you find an answer which fits both parts of the puzzle, then you know you’ve got it right.”

I scanned the list of clues. The mords seemed wuddled to me.

“Try this one. It’s three letters, and the clue is A supporter of air-conditioning.

Squinting at the checkered blocks, I mulled it over. Air conditioning… a breeze? Cold? A wind? A fan?

A FAN!!! A fan was another word for a supporter, too!

“Fan!” I squealed, wriggling on my seat with pride. My oupa beamed and bent to stencil each letter into its appointed block: F. A. N. Instantly hooked, I pressed into his arm and joined him search of another clue.

My oupa passed away before I finished high school. As the oldest of his grandchildren, I had more years with him than any of the others, but they were still not years enough. Not nearly enough.

It’s been twenty five years, but his love of words and his way of loving with words stays with me. I still love cryptic crosswords. I still play Boggle and endless games of Words with Friends. And sometimes, when I’m sitting on the couch with my children tucked in close, I’ll ask them if I can tell them a story.

“Have you heard the one about the Dugly Uckling,” I’ll ask, basking in the love language of wuddled mords once again.

Bronwyn Lea is a South African born writer-mama who loves sharing the joy of words with her children (Sandra Boynton, anyone?), and with her readers at writing has appeared at Momastery, Christianity Today, RELEVANT and (in)courage. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter (@bronleatweets).