Saturday, September 27, 2008

Today's secret word: "mondegreen"

I often feel like such a Johnny-Come-Lately, like by the time I find out about something, it’s soooo 10 minutes ago. That’s what happened with, a music site that I think is freakin’ awesome. Man, when I got turned on to that site, I shouted its praises from the rooftops, only to be met with, “Oh, yeah. Pandora’s cool.” So I suppose I’m the last person on earth to hear of the word “mondegreen.” defines mondegreen (pronounced mon-di-green) as “a word or phrase resulting from a misinterpretation of a word or phrase that has been heard.” American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in an essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” published in November 1954 in Harper’s Magazine. Referring to a 17th century poem that her mother read aloud to her as a child, the author tells how she misinterpreted the line "And laid him on the green" as “And Lady Mondegreen.”

My mother told me how when she was a kid, she misheard people referring to “the chest of drawers” as “the Chester drawers.” When my daughter was little, she thought a local newscaster went by the hip nickname “The Heat is On” until she was old enough to read and was shocked to see the name on the television screen was “Benita Zahn.”

Mondegreens often result from misinterpreted song lyrics, and they can be quite entertaining. My favorite mondegreen is the classic “There’s a bathroom on the right,” the line at the end of each verse of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” And of course we all wondered what was going on with Jimi Hendrix when he shouted, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy!”

Both Creedence's lead singer,John Fogerty, and Hendrix eventually capitalized on their fans’ poor hearing (or was it their own inability to e-nun-ci-ate?) and deliberately sang the mondegreen versions of their songs in concert. Alone in the car, I always sing “There’s a bathroom on the right”; it’s simply more fun that way.

I had my own mondegreen version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” that, quite frankly, had me perplexed for decades:

“I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man, burning all the Jews I’ve ever known”

Jeez, Elton... WTF? Then years later I looked up the real lyrics and was relieved to find the line is “Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.”

Oh. That’s very different.

How about you? Any fun mondegreens to share? And did you even know there was such a word?


Anonymous said...

The title of Malachy McCout's memoir, "A Monk Swimming" came from his mishearing "amongst women" in the "Hail Mary".
Who knew it is a mondegreen?
To me, mondegreen should mean green world.

Hurricane Mikey said...

The doozy of all mondegreens I've ever heard was back in college, the school newspaper was doing features on the Junior Miss contestants, and the interviewer listed the gals favorite book as 'Lame Is Rob' by Victor Hugo.

Even the editor missed that one. I think that one hung on the fridge for the entire semester.

Lisa McGlaun said...

I have two.

There was a silly technopop song from the '80's by the band Soft Cell. It was called Tainted Love.

For years I thought they were saying...

"Don't touch me please. I cannot stand the way you sneeze."


"Don't touch me please. I cannot stand the way you tease."

And the kids got confused with a Macy Gray song. They would sing loudly, "I blow bubbles when you are not here."

Instead of the correct..My world crumbles when you are not here.


Anonymous said...

Ha! Mondegreens--how fun! Who knew?

Lisa McGlaun said...


I gave you an award...go to my blog to see it.

Andi said...

I'm reminded of a story I heard in library school about a freshman who goes to the library and asks for a book his prof told him to read called Oranges and Peaches. After much questioning, the librarian finally figures out that the student actually wants Darwin's Origin of the Species!

I never knew there was such a word as mondegreen, but now I'm going to be looking for opportunities to impress people with it whenever I can!