Search us!

Search The Word Detective and our family of websites:

This is the easiest way to find a column on a particular word or phrase.

To search for a specific phrase, put it between quotation marks.

 

 

 

 

 

You do not need to be logged in to comment.

You can comment on any post without being registered on this site.

You do not need to use your real name (although it would be nice to do so) or your real email address.

All comments are, however, held for moderation, so it may take a day or two for yours to appear.

Almost all comments are approved (spam and personal abuse being the primary exceptions), but approval of a comment does not indicate agreement.

 

 

shameless pleading

Mondegreens again

Marge and Tina, meet Richard Stans.

A few days ago, I took the occasion of a reader’s query about “for all intensive purposes” (which is, of course, a mangled rendition of “for all intents and purposes”) to introduce the subject of “mondegreens.” Mondegreens are humorous mishearings of popular phrases and song lyrics, so-named by writer Sylvia Wright in 1954. She had heard one stanza of the Scottish ballad ”The Bonny Earl of Murray” as “Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands, Oh where hae you been?, They hae slay the Earl of Murray, And Lady Mondegreen,” and only much later realized that the last line was actually “And laid him on the green.” No Lady Mondegreen. Oops, or, as Emily Littella would say, “Never mind.”

Mondegreens vary in intensity, as you might expect, and some are a bit difficult to swallow. Mondegreen maven Jon Carroll, a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle, recounts a mishearing of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance that must be at least partly apocryphal: “I pledge a lesion to the flag, of the United State of America, and to the republic for Richard Stans, one naked individual, with liver tea and just this for all.” But entirely believable (to me, anyway) is one of Carroll’s readers mishearing the tedious anthem from “Evita” as “Don’t cry for me, Marge and Tina,” or another reader’s puzzlement over Rod Stewart’s insistence that “Every picture tells a story doughnut.” My personal favorite among Jon Carroll’s mondegreen crop comes from the reader who “recounted the story of the pet shop clerk who told him, in all seriousness, that her parents’ wealth did them no good at all because they just sat around their backyard deck in Marin [County, California] and ‘drank themselves to Bolivia.’” Sounds like fun.

But now it’s time to fess up to my own mondegreen fiasco. Several years ago I devoted an entire column to the word “noisome” (meaning “obnoxious”). I used as my angle the classic Kinks song “Superman,” wherein the protagonist laments, “Looked in the mirror/what did I see?/a noisome weakling/with knobbly knees” Except that he doesn’t, in fact, say “noisome.” As a helpful reader later pointed out, the actual words are (referring to the British system of measuring weight) “nine stone,” or about 126 pounds. Oops. Never mind.

1 comment to Mondegreens again

  • Sonya L. Sandoval

    If you really like mondegreens, you need to get a hold of four books by Gavin Edwards: ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy; He’s Got The Whole World In His Pants; When A Man Loves A Walnut; and Deck the Halls With Buddy Holly. Each song is organized as follows: wrong lyric, artist, title, correct lyric. You’ll laugh at some and be shaking your head in disbelief at the rest(How in God’s name did they mess that up?).

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Please support
The Word Detective

(and see each issue
much sooner)

unclesamsmaller
by Subscribing.

If you are already a subscriber, you can find Subscriber Content here.

 

Follow us on Twitter!