Word of the Day: Mondegreen

//Word of the Day: Mondegreen

Word of the Day: Mondegreen

Definition: A misunderstood or misinterpreted word or phrase resulting from mishearing the lyrics of a song.

The word, ‘mondegreen’ was coined in the 1950s. Writer, Sylvia Wright, described listening to her mother read old poems to her when she was a child. One had the line ‘…and laid him on the green’, which she misheard as ‘…and Lady Mondegreen.’

So ‘mondegreen’ is a mondegreen.

(And when a word is the thing that it defines, it is called an ‘autonym’. But I digress.)

You can find another example In Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’—lots of people hear the real line ‘ ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky’ as ‘ ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy’.

Apparently, that’s partly because Jimi would occasionally use the real lyric and the other one interchangeably in his live shows, just for fun (which makes it more of a monde-grey…?).

Sneaky.

But if we’re about to mishear something, why do we hear other words? Why don’t we mishear it properly so it is just a jumble of syllables?

Only part of the way we understand language comes from what we hear. We build the rest of the meaning from context—gaps between words, inflection, visual cues or emphasis. Most of the time, we get it right.

But things like background noise or inability to see a speaker’s face—which affect how we listen to songs—mean that only hear part of the word and we have less contextual information to build on.

But our brain tries to fill in the gaps anyway.

When it uses the wrong set of sounds and comes up with a different word, we have a mondegreen.

What are some mondegreens you’ve heard?

By | 2017-02-22T21:45:49+00:00 February 23rd, 2017|WOTD|4 Comments

About the Author:

Minnie has a Master of Public and International Law degree, and specialises in writing for vulnerable audiences—making complex policy meaningful to those who need it most.

4 Comments

  1. Rory February 23, 2017 at 6.31am - Reply

    There’s a line in Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ that goes ‘Chop your breakfast on a mirror’. I always heard it as something like ‘Chops for breakfast, aloe vera’.

    The song makes much more sense now. 🙂

    • Minnie February 25, 2017 at 2.17pm - Reply

      Did you say ‘breakfast’? Where is it?

  2. Lorien February 23, 2017 at 7.11am - Reply

    My most memorable mondegreen is from the Eiffel 65 song Blue (Da Ba Dee). My excuse is that I first heard it in noisy nightclubs and once I’d misinterpreted the lyrics they got stuck in my head forever 🙂 The offending line was of course the “I’m blue, da ba dee, da ba die” which my brain immediately translated into “I’m blue, if that was me I would die”. I still maintain that my lyric makes more sense 🙂
    Have a listen and see what you think – https://youtu.be/FlMHdhf0nvE

    • Minnie February 25, 2017 at 2.00pm - Reply

      Yes… I heard ‘I’m blue, that indeed, and I’d die’. And that was even knowing what I was listening out for… perhaps it was influenced by the blue aliens in the clip.

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