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…?).


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?