Got Mondegreen?

I was reading a piece in New York Magazine today by a writer who kept mishearing part of a new Taylor Swift song.  Even though she knew what the lyrics were, her brain kept hearing it incorrectly.  This is called a “mondegreen:”

A series of words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement or song lyric. For example, “I led the pigeons to the flag” for “I pledge allegiance to the flag.”

Coined by Sylvia Wright in Harper’s Magazine (The Death of Lady Mondegreen, Nov 1954) from a mishearing of a line in the Scottish ballad The Bonny Earl of Murray: “They have slain the Earl of Murray, / And laid him on the green” (misheard as “They  have slain the Earl of Murray/ And Lady Mondegreen”).

When my daughter was little, she would sing along to Jose Feliciano’s Christmas song, “Feliz Navidad.”  Since she didn’t know any Spanish at that time, the chorus would always come out as “Feliz Blobby-blob.”  Another Yuletide song that kids tend to mangle is “Silent Night.”  A mondegreen of that tune (which I love) is:  “Round John Virgin, mother and child” instead of “round yon virgin, mother and child.”

Are you, or someone you know, guilty of creating mondegreens?  Have any favorites?

Feliz Blobby-blob, y’all!



11 thoughts on “Got Mondegreen?

  1. Interesting post.
    Does this relate to music too?
    I play piano by ear, and once I have picked up a new piece and it is incorrect in certain places, I cannot for the life of me get it right. No matter how many times I listen, the hands will not obey the ears!
    As to favourite mishears, Hot Chocolate’s So You Win Again comes to mind with ‘This Twit Makes One Mistake’ instead of ‘Just to admit one mistake’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never knew about this term mondegreen until now. Thank you, professore. I know I have mondegreened plenty of song lyrics, but what immediately comes to mind is a phrase I often heard back in the day — way, way back in the day when I used to attend Catholic mass. I was forced to attend by my parents, proving they were only partially perfect. Whenever the priest would say, “Let us pray,” I always heard, “Lettuce prey.” There you go: the makings of a born atheist. Nothing dear old dad and mom could do about that.

    Have a great Turkey Day!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I had never heard the word “mondegreen” before last week, when, in one of my posts, I discussed how the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita” was a mondegreen for “In the Garden of Eden.” Allegedly that was that was the name of the song, but when they went to rehearse it before recording the song, the singer was a bit tipsy and it sounded more like he was saying “in-a-gadda-da-vita” than “in the Garden of Eden.” That mondegreen stuck and that’s what the song was titled when the band recorded that 17-minute psychedelic classic.

    I had always thought that the word for mishearing song lyrics was “eggcorn.” The example of an eggcorn often used is the old Jimi Hendrix song, where the lyrics, “kissed the sky” is often heard as “kissed this guy.”

    So twice, within one week, I have heard a word I’d never heard before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought this comment from Urban Dictionary was particularly apt about In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita:

      “What evolves from there can only be described these days as a bad horror movie incidental score, punctuated by a one man drum circle and an interpretive two-finger organ recital of “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

      The song wraps up with a nearly identical iteration of the lyrics. This is an important feature of the song, because, although numerous parodies have spawned over the days, perhaps the funniest thing you can do with it is carefully dub a second copy seamlessly onto the end of the first, and then a third, and so on to the length of the longest recording media you can possibly find.

      The end product has the effect of driving aged stoners (the only kind you can persuade to listen to it) stark raving mad. They cannot figure out whether the song is just dragging on like they remembered it from years ago, or whether they are just really, really baked. After about a half hour (which is well under twice the length of the original song) tension levels in the room will start to rise, and you can have fun placing bets on which of them will decide they have had enough first. “

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A high school friend’s brother thought ‘Big Old Jet Airliner” was big ole cat had a lighter. As if that made better sense.
    And The Police song ‘Canary in a Coal Mine’ was Mary’s in a Coma.

    Liked by 1 person

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