the mondegreen revisitedPosted: May 19, 2016
Back in 2014 I wrote about the mondegreen. A mondegreen is a misheard song lyric. It recently popped up as the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Word of the Day, so I thought it would be fun to revisit it.
The word was coined by essayist Sylvia Wright in 1954. She admits to having misheard the words to a poem her mother read her. Her mother read:
“They have slain the Earl of Murray, And laid him on the green.”
but she heard “And laid him on the green” as “And Lady Mondegreen.”
She used the phrase in an article in Harper’s Magazine in 1954, where she said,
The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.
This from the OED entry on the word.
The entry also quotes Stephen Pinker in 1994: “The interesting thing about mondegreens is that the mis-hearings are generally less plausible than the intended lyrics.”
I’m not sure that those two statements are contradictory. Take Wright’s original mondegreen. It is more interesting than the original in its symmetry, bit it is less plausible. The wife of an Earl is a Countess, not a Lady. Although the daughter of an Earl is a Lady, so had it been his daughter and not his wife that was slain in this mishearing, that would be correct.
A famous mondegreen from rock music is John Fogerty’s “There’s a bad moon on the rise” being heard as “There’s a bathroom on the right.” More interesting and less plausible.
One of my favorite songs from my Claremont cockroach days was England Dan & John Ford Coley’s “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight.” My mondegreen was hearing “I’m not talking ’bout movin’ in” as “I’m not talking ‘bout no wedding.” Hmmm. In that case I’d say equally interesting and equally plausible.
Mondegreens. ‘Cause they’re fun.