Sunday, July 25, 2010


Hands up those who know what a mondegreen is. No takers? OK - it's a mishearing of a phrase, most often in a song, that results in the listener interpreting something unintended. C'mon, 'fess up - we've all been victims of that at some point, often in childhood.

The term comes from a stanza in a poem: Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, | Oh, where hae ye been? | They hae slain the Earl O' Moray, | And Lady Mondegreen. In fact, the last line is And laid him on the green. Clearly, we needed a word for this phenomenon and, English being what it is, the term "mondegreen" entered the language.

My eternal favorite is Gladly the cross-eyed bear. The actual words are Gladly, the cross I'd bear, a line in a hymn.

But, in reading about mondegreens in Wikipedia (link above), I discovered the genre of "deliberate mondegreens," where the authors have tried to make us mis-hear. To quote from Wikipedia:
"The lyric if you see Kay (F-U-C-K) was employed by blues pianist Memphis Slim in 1963, R. Stevie Moore in 1977, April Wine on its 1982 album Power Play, the Poster Children in 1990, and Turbonegro in 2005, as well as a line from James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses. Britney Spears did the same thing with the song "If U Seek Amy", in which the lyric All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy can easily be misheard as All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to F-U-C-K me."
Fun stuff! If you know of a good one, please add it to the comments for this post.

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