Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I've learned by reading Siris that the title of this blog is a mondegreen. Don't know what a mondegreen is? The term dates from 1954, when writer Sylvia Wright revealed that she thought the words to a folk song were
They hae slain the Earl of Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
In fact, after slaying the poor Earl, they "laid him on the green." And a wonderful term was born. A terrific site dealing with mondegreens is this one, with links to others. I find by going through some of these links that I have been guilty of at least one more mondegreen. Tell the truth: did you know the correct lyrics to "Brass in Pocket"?
Wrong lyric: Gonna use my sausage
Right lyric: Gonna use my sidestep

Actually, all this time I thought she was saying "gonna use my sassy." It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but it sounded cool.

Here's another. Last year there was some song by Jimmy Eat World constantly on the radio; I don't even remember the name of it. During part of the chorus the singer says:
Right lyric: everything, everything
Lyric as heard by me: Elvis is everything
My kids filled me in; nice little Rorschach test. In fact, I have another mondegreen that I still don't know the correct lyrics to. Please write and tell me. It's a classic rock number by ELO (title forgotten), and this is how I hear it:
Wrong: It's a lemon drink / what a terrible thing to do.
Right: ????
One last mondegreen, and not mine. Back in 1970, Jimi Hendrix had a big hit with Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which contains the line:
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.
Poor Jimi committed a mondegreen when he sang
None of them along the line nobody of it is worth
Which makes no sense at all. Good thing he could play guitar. (Don't believe me? Go listen to it right now. I'll wait..... See?)

UPDATE: Thanks to Stephen Goranson (via e-mail) and Jim Davila (in his comment below) for establishing the correct text of ELO's "Livin' Thing." If I had only known the title, the world would have had one fewer mondegreen.

For Hebraists: Fred Bush of Fuller used to tell this story on himself. When first visiting in Israel, he listened to the radio to try to improve his Modern Hebrew. One word continually stumped him: tabrit. Finally he asked someone what it meant, and was told there was no such word. "But it's on the radio all the time!" he said. "It's in the phrase artzo tabrit!" And that's how he learned that the name of the United States in Modern Hebrew is artzot ha-berit.

UPDATE (1/26): And the mondegreens keep coming in....

Doug Ward of Miami U. asks what the correct line is in "Riders on the Storm": is it "an actor out on loan" or "an actor out alone"? He has seen it both ways.

Danny Frese mentions the case of a friend who wondered what mastomeret in Modern Hebrew meant — ironic, since the misheard phrase was mah zot omeret, "what does it mean"?

Bill Arnold's wife, when a little girl, used to hear the hymn "Lead on, O king eternal," as "Lead on, o kinky turtle."

My wife, along with thousands of others, heard Manfred Mann singing "wrapped up like a douche" in the song "Blinded by the Light" by Bruce Springsteen. This particular line probably has more mondegreens than any other in history, to judge by this site. Probably Manfred was actually singing "revved up like a deuce," itself a mondegreen for the canonical "cut loose like a deuce." None of them make any obvious sense.


Jim Davila said...

"It's a livin' thing,
what a terrible thing to lose."

- ELO, Livin' Thing.

The title is a good hint.

And, yes, I did know the lyrics to Brass in Pocket, but only because I looked them up long ago. If anything, the song made less sense once I knew the proper words.

Jim Davila

Stephen C. Carlson said...

One of my favorite examples came from the daughter of a friend of mine. What makes this interesting is that it is based on punctuation.

A line in the song "Home on the Range" goes "Where seldom is heard a discouraging word." She parsed it as "Where 'seldom' is heard (a discouraging word)."

Yitz said...

I laboured long under the mystified delusion that the muffled & screeched lines in "Sheep" in Pink Floyd's "Animals" album went:

"Screaming and scrabbling we fell on a snack with ice cream/Wave upon wave of the mintier vendors marched cheerfully out of security into the cream."

The real lines can be read and heard at - click on the "Echoes" button and follow the links.

Anonymous said...

I learnt recently that ELO were referring to abortion when they sang Living Thing.