If you have never heard of a “mondegreen” it is a word that refers to a mishearing of the lyrics of a song or words of a poem or story such that it changes the meaning or is otherwise humorous. An example would be that from which the word originates. “The American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term mondegreen in an essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” which was published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1954. In the essay, Wright described how, as a young girl, she misheard the final line of the first stanza from the 17th century ballad “The Bonnie Earl O’ Murray.” She wrote:

‘When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
And Lady Mondegreen.’

The actual fourth line is “And laid him on the green.” As Wright explained the need for a new term, ‘The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.'”

A modern example is the mishearing of Jimi Hendrix’s line from “Purple Haze”: “…’scuse me while I kiss this guy.” The actual line is “…’scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Another lyical error that is not as popular or common but I once heard someone make was the mishearing of the lyrics of Black Sabbath’s song “Iron Man”. The lyric “Has he lost his mind?” was misheard as “Ozzy’s lost his mind.” The humor is in the fact that Ozzy Osbourne was the singer for Black Sabbath at the time the song was written and recorded and thus it would appear that Ozzy was singing of his own madness in the third person.

There are two mondegreens of which I was guilty in my childhood. There were doubtless many others but these two seem to have stayed with me. The first was a mishearing of the song “Lady In Red” by Chris de Burgh I always heard the first line of the chorus (which is the title of the song) as “Lady Aunt Ray”. I had all sorts of imaginings at why this guy was singing about his aunt and also why the poor lass had a man’s name!

The other mondegreen of mine that comes to mind involves the song “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News. Again I misheard the lyric which included the title of the track. I always mistook “It’s Hip to be square” as “Let’s hit the Beat Square.” I capitalize it because I imagined that it was a place (kinda like Times Square).

What are some mondegreens that you have heard folks make or what are some you yourself are guilty of?

Josh H.


4 Responses to “Mondegreens”

  1. December 26, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    I learned the term “mondegreen” in late 2007. One thing led to another, and now I’m the administrator of a flaky effort called MANDY GREEN Project largely aimed at helping establish “mondegreen” as a household word. It involves a quirky novel written by MANDY GREEN (yes, “mondegreen” misheard as “Mandy Green”) whose story centers on a mondegreen (”Gesundheit Whistle” misheard as “Gazoon High Twizzle”). Please check it out and tell all your friends, especially those named MANDY GREEN.

    My son Emmmett advised me that the whole effort is hopeless, adding that he hated to be the BEAR OF BAD NEWS. <–mondegreen

    Emmett also recently realized that he’d always misheard “Cirque du soleil” as CIRCUS L.A.

    We both mis-heard the “Smallville” theme. Emmett thought the one verse was LET MY ORGANS BREAK RIGHT THROUGH. I thought it was LET MY WARM HANDS BREAK RIGHT THROUGH. Apparently, it’s actually LET YOUR WATERS BREAK RIGHT THROUGH, which makes no more sense than our versions.

  2. December 26, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    That’s awesome, keith. It is so entertaining to hear how folks have misheard lyrics and phrases. It makes for some good laughs.

  3. 3 Matt
    December 26, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Karen will kill me for telling you this, but she always thought Celine Deon’s song “All By Myself” was actually “All By the Sand”. Come to think of it…why was she listening to Celine Deon?

    I also though ZZ Tops was saying Shy Gas Man instead of Sharped Dressed Man!

  4. December 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Matt, Oh dude, that made me laugh out loud. I think every girl would be crazy about a man who was shy about passing gas. That way he probably wouldn’t do it as often.

    Aaaaal by THE Saaaaand. That’s awesome.

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