A look at a pair of reversals with the metaphor ‘White Owl’.

Here are two related metaphorical reversals I found on myself in 2003.

Reverse speech: Give me snake an’ a white owl(16 July 2003) 

Forward: Why do I want to go to Sydney?

Reversal: White owl, when it can seem big get Soto (17 July 2003)  

Forward speech: Why do I say give me snake and a white owl?


‘White owl, when it can seem big get Soto’ is a response to a question I posed on ‘Give me snake and a white owl’ produced the previous day. To quote from David Oates’ metaphor dictionary, white owl as a metaphor means: ‘to worship ones intellect as though it was God; this was the crime of Lucifer, he thought he was so wise he was equal with God; this metaphor is very strong and it refers to someone immersed in their head with no spiritual connection; a mighty intellect that is rigid and immovable’. As a metaphor throughout history, ‘white owl’ has had both positive and negative attributes associated with it, for example, seeing past deceit and illusion, a messenger, a guardian, death and gloom, a maturing person etc. Snake in Oates’ dictionary refers to: ‘deception; cunning; temptation; bad patterns from the past’.

Interestingly, the snake is also a typical prey of the owl.

To apply David Oates’ interpretation would therefore mean being in the intellect too much (white owl), and that this is a bad pattern, etc (snake). This would seem appropriate in light of the statement to get Soto when it sems (too) big.

Soto may refer to the Japanese Zen school where meditation to still thought is a primary practice. Soto in Japanese also means ‘outside’ as against ‘inside’ and may refer to enlarging one’s circle of interaction. So, when the intellect/mind becomes too big, practice meditation (alternatively, enlarge one’s circle of interaction).

Linguistic analysis

Give me snake an’ a white owl

Give me’ – an impression of /g/ is obtained from the closing of the tongue and the velar position at the end of ‘Sydney’. A perception [ve m] occurs is evident.

‘snake’ comes behind ‘[go to S]ydney ’with /t/ providing the alveolar /n/.

an’ a’ comes behind w[ant to] with the natural elision of /t/

White owl’ comes behind ‘why do I w’… and is well-formed.

White owl, when it can seem big get Soto

‘White owl’ – a reasonably close approximation of ‘white owl’ occurs behind ‘white owl’ in the forward speech (F). /t/ naturally creates a flap /ɾ/ and also naturally links to following vowel sound as it would in forward speech. The vowel in ‘owl’ is not as precise as the vowel in the forward speech. The word is cut shorter in reverse (R) than the forward; this is entirely acceptable due to the fact that there is a word immediately following, and this would happen in the same situation in forward speech.

‘when it’ – a word, ‘ when’ is formed from the /w/ in ‘white’(F) and the /n/ in ‘and’ (F) . The /t/ in ‘it’ (R) moving to /k/ in ‘can’ naturally occurs between /k/ and /n/, ‘snake and’ (F).

‘can seem big’ – /s/ in ‘snake’ moves to ‘seem’ in reverse; /b/ is assumed at the labio-dental /v/ in ‘give’. Of course, /v/ can be heard in reverse, however the bilabial /m/ before it in the reverse from ‘me’ contributes to the impression of /b/.

‘get Soto’ – /s/ in ‘why do I say’ (F) creates initial consonant /s/ in ‘Soto’; /d/ (F) creates the naturally-occurring flap /ɾ/ in ‘Soto’

Note: The reference to Sydney in the FS is sourced from a number of reversals I had telling me I should go to Sydney from China where I was living at the time(which I did on January 1, 2007 through I very good job opening).

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