I read a grammar book a few years ago and remember coming accross a term for switching the first two letters in a word. I cannot for the life of me remember what the term is.

An example would be the name "Leo" being pronounced as "Elo".

I cannot remember if it was specifically involving the letter 'l', but I do know that it is not a spoonerism.

I do not remember it being classified as an impediment, more of a mispronunciation in early speech development since it is common in toddlers' speech.

Any help would be greatly appreciated — it is really bugging me now.

  • There is no linguistic term for switching letters in speech, because in speech letters are neither produced nor switched at all. Reg’s answer, ‘metathesis’, is the generic term for sound switching, but like all other terms that deal with phonetics, it describes sounds, not letters. The two are not equivalent. That said, I have never heard of ‘switching the first two sounds in a word’ as a thing, either. It makes very little sense. If it were applied, that last sentence would read something like, /dɪ eɪmks ɛʋɹɪ ɪɫtɫ ɛsns/, which is utterly incomprehensible gibberish. Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 13:05
  • The definitions for both 'phonetics' and 'metathesis' happen to include letters as well as sounds. Maybe you meant 'phonemics' which I believe is purely concerning sounds. The example you gave is gibberish because it is out of context, i.e. a toddler would not pronounce every word wrongly, but every other word, or perhaps only those involving 'l' as hinted. As for my question - its answer might be related to the fis phenomenon.
    – pulsar
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 17:06
  • 1
    ‘Phonetics’ does not include letters. It can be used to refer to phonetic transcription, but that is not the same as letters, even though phonetic transcription systems often uses variations of letters as their basic constituents. Phonemics deal with phonemes, while phonetics deal either with phones specifically, or with sound-as-sound (rather than as manifestations of phonemes), or as an overarching term for sounds in human speech in general. Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


The general term is metathesis. I am not aware of a specific term for the first two letters. Other examples include pasketti, asteriks, revelant, nucular, but also the venerable thirteen, aks, horse, bird.

  • I'm fairly sure Tolkien transposes when into hwen (which seems to make sense), but disguises it in runes. Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 12:13
  • Don’t forget through and arse, they’ll feel left out! Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 13:06
  • this may very well have been the word! great examples too. thankyou.
    – pulsar
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 16:24

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