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THE INTERESTINGFACTS.COM, December 6, 2021, describes a linguistic term new to me: “A mondegreen,” says the website, “occurs when there’s a communication hiccup between the syllables you hear and the meaning your brain assigns to them.”
InterestingFacts continues, “Mondegreens are especially common when you hear music but cannot see the singer’s face, like when listening to the radio.” Examples offered are “Takin’ Care of Business” being heard as “Makin’ Carrot Biscuits” and “Bennie and the Jets” confused with “Betty in a Dress.”
The website says another such faux pas even entered our lexicon: “Spitting image” originated as “spit and image,” what with “spit’ once meaning “a perfect likeness.”
Here are tidbits on mondegreens and other audible faux pas. Maybe you have some favorites?
On the Origin of Mondegreen. Merriam-Webster defines mondegreen as “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing especially of something recited or sung.… The word originates with journalist Sylvia Wright, who wrote a column in the 1950s in which she recounted hearing the Scottish folksong The Bonny Earl of Morray.”
M-W continues, “Wright misheard the lyric ‘Oh, they have slain the Earl o’ Morray and laid him on the green’ and thought it was ‘Oh, they have slain the Earl o’ Morray and Lady Mondegreen.’ ”
Pity the Girl. Wikipedia cites a Beatles’ lyric lamenting “The girl with colitis goes by.” In fact, they’re celebrating “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.”
My Route 1 Amazement. Wife Dottie and I were driving past Hearst Castle when she remarked, “Look, penguins.”
I knew that Hearst had populated the grounds with exotic animals from around the world, but geez….
“No,” Wife Dottie clarified, “I was talking about wildflowers and there were some pink ones.” From then on, she and I called such misunderstandings “creative hearing.”
Nativity Mondegreens. Asked to draw a nativity scene, one kid included an obese shepherd, “Round John Virgin.”
And a kid from the south included a fireman. When ask why, the kid cited the carol “We Three Kings of Orient are/ Bearing gifts we traverse a fire…”
A Eulogy. Another kid was encouraged to perform an appropriate service when his pet hamster died and was to be interred in the back yard. The kid solemnly intoned, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and down the hole he goes.”
A Reverse Mondegreen. Wikipedia cites a 1943 novelty song as a “reverse mondegreen.” The lyrics of Mairzy Doats go “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lamzy divey./ A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?”
The bridge of the song explains it all: “If the words sound queer and funny to your ear,/ A little bit jumbled and jivey,/ Sing ‘Mares eat oats and does eat oats/ And little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too,/ wouldn’t you?” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021
Perhaps the most famous is Blinded By The Light. In later versions, it’s fairly clear he’s singing “Revved up like a Deuce” but I still hear “Wrapped up like a douche” in the original. He pronouces deuce as douche and the lyrics make more sense, as in packaging his music for the public. Personally I think he changed the lyrics to avoid the shock, back in 1976.
Many think that during the dramatic stop in Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix sings “S’cuse me while I kiss this guy”
Dave Barry famously claims to have heard the opening lines of “Help Me Rhonda” as:
“Well since you put me down,
There’s been owls pukin’ in my bed.”
When attending boarding school in England in the 1960s we used to have fireworks and a bonfire on Guy Fawkes Day in memory of his failed attempt to blow up / burn down the Houses of Parliament in 1605. My kid brother being the youngest at the school was given the honour of giving the short speech as the bonfire was lit that went “Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gun Powder, Treason and Plot”, except that his words came out “…Gun Powder, Treacle and Pop”.
Treacle is also known as golden syrup, and pop is what Americans call a soda. Very much a prime priority of a five year old!
Another Bible example : the kid who drew a picture illustrating a story about Jesus’ birth: It showed an airplane with three people on it, and explained that it was “the flight into Egypt. The teacher asked, I understand that those two are Mary and Joseph, but who is the third? “Why, that’s Pontius, the pilot!” Of Course!
I always heard Jimmy Cliff’s line “I can see all obstacles in my way” as “I can see all Popsicles in my way.”