When I am driving, I like to listen to the radio and, if I am alone, that is the one place that I feel safe singing along. (If you can call what I do singing!) I belt out the words at the top of my lungs! I am embarrassed to say that I frequently misquote the actual lyrics. Sometimes it is just hard to understand the words of the artist, and I don’t stop to think if what I am saying makes sense. You too?
For example, Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze is often misquoted. “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” comes through as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” or “Excuse me while I p___ the sky.” The Beatles’ “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” is another. How could you hear, “Lucy’s in a fight, with Linus?” Or Elton John’s “Hold me closer, tiny dancer” as “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”? All of these are mondegreens.
According to an article in Newsweek Magazine, “the word mondegreen is defined as a misheard word or phrase that makes sense in your head, but is, in fact, incorrect. The term was coined in a November 1954 Harper’s Bazaar piece, where the author, Sylvia Wright, recalled a childhood mishearing. According to the author, when she was young her mother would read to her from a book called Reliques of Ancient Verse. Her favorite poem from the 1765 book went like this: ‘Ye Highland and Ye Lowlands / Oh where have you been? / They have slain the Earl O’Moray / And laid him on the green.’ Wright, however, heard the last line as ‘And Lady Mondegreen’.”
A mondegreen takes place when there’s a communication hiccup between what you hear and what your brain perceives. This is essentially what happens in the childhood game of telephone. As one friend whispers a word or phrase into another’s ear, it can become wildly distorted, and a totally different word or phrase can come out the other side.
The acoustic information that’s received and the interpretation a brain comes up with simply don’t match up. It’s not clear why this happens, it just does.
Here are a few more mondegreens and I hope they make you chuckle as much as they did me.
“We built this city on sausage rolls”
Correct: “We built this city on rock and roll”
“Give me the Beach Boys and free my soul”
Correct: “Give me the beat boys and free my soul”
“All the lonely Starbucks lovers”
Correct: “Got a long list of ex-lovers”
“Saving his life from this warm sausage tea”
Correct: “Spare him his life from this monstrosity”
“This is the dawning of the Age of Asparagus”
Correct: “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”
Mondegreens can also happen when everyday words and phrases are misheard. When my boys were little, they came up with some good mondegreens. Our trip to Wyoming and Yellowstone Park became Yellow Rocks Park (makes sense!) and aspen trees became aspirin trees.
Do you have a favorite? Share them with us below.
What is your favorite mondegreen? Please share it! Have you ever had an embarrassing experience with a mondegreen?