Misunderstandings of lyrics

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Mon Aug 23 01:51:39 UTC 1999

    For some years I have been collecting examples of children
misunderstanding such items  as "round yon  virgin" ("Round John Virgin")
and "Pontius Pilate" ("Pontius Pilot," resulting in a third grader drawing
a Christimas picture featuring an airplane with a mother, father and baby,
plus one additional man in the front; the additional man was "Pontius

    Recently I received an e-mail message reportedly taken off the
Internet.  It presents a list of such misunderstandings plus some,
evidently, made by adults;  I do not vouch for the authenticity of every
>                  Mondegreens Ripped My Flesh
>Here at the Center for the Humane Study of Mondegreens, we've been
>toting up the entries and applying the latest statistical correlative
>even using our toes, to arrive at a semi-definitive answer.
>We believe that the most frequently submitted Mondegreen is still "Gladly,
>the cross-eyed bear" (known in the real world as that fine old hymn "Gladly
>The Cross I'd Bear"). A close second is "There's a bathroom on the right," a
>mishearing of "There's a bad moon on the rise" from the old Creedence
>Clearwater song "Bad Moon Rising."
>Third place is still firmly held by "Excuse me while I kiss this guy,"
>"Excuse me while I kiss the sky" from the Jimi Hendrix song "Purple Haze."
>Mr. Hendrix was himself aware that he had been Mondegreened, and would
>occasionally, in performance, actually kiss a guy after saying that line.
>Fourth place is probably occupied by Round John Virgin, a Shakespearean
>figure occasionally found in "Silent Night." Also high on the charts is a
>Mondegreen from "Groovin'", a popular song of an earlier era. (Kids,
>"groovin'" was kind of like "chillin'" except the clothing fit more
>In that song, the Rascals were singing "You and me endlessly," but many
>people heard "You and me and Leslie," leading to speculation about the
>exact identity of Leslie and the popularity of multiple couplings in the
>For those of you who have not yet received the pamphlet (mailed free to
>anyone who buys me an automobile), the word Mondegreen, meaning a
>mishearing of a popular phrase or song lyric, was coined by the writer
>                 Wright.
>As a child she had heard the Scottish ballad "The Bonny Earl of Murray"
>and had believed that one stanza went like this:
>                 Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands
>                 Oh where hae you been?
>                 They hae slay the Earl of Murray,
>                 And Lady Mondegreen.
>Poor Lady Mondegreen, thought Sylvia Wright. A tragic heroine dying with
>  her liege; how poetic. When it turned out, some years later, that what
>had actually done was slay the Earl of Murray and lay him on the green,
>Wright was so distraught by the sudden disappearance of her heroine that
>she memorialized her with a neologism.
>This space has been for some years the chief publicity agent for
>Mondegreens. The Oxford English Dictionary has not yet seen the light, but
>it will, it will.
>The pledge of allegiance is such a hotbed of Mondegreens that one could
>create a composite of submitted entries: "I pledge a lesion to the flag, of
>United State of America, and to the republic for Richard Stans, one naked
>individual, with liver tea and just this for all."
>This formulation is elderly enough to have predated "under God," which is
>just as well; it would be a shame to lose "one naked individual."
>There are Mondegreens in familiar phrases. A friend of Adair Lara's
>believed for years that we live in a "doggy dog world" populated by pushy
>people with a "no holes barred" attitude, while a friend of Carolyn Stone's
>believed that World War II was fought between the Zees and the Not Zees.
>B. Young was charmed to hear that both Coke and Pepsi came in
>"cheerleader size." Later, he was disappointed to learn that it was actually
>"two litre size." Florence Jarreth was interested in the new "Jeep
>but less interested in the new "Jeep Cherokee."
>James Lauder 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 and "drank themselves to
>Geoffrey Gould's mother was convinced that if, say, you were moving a vase
>to a high shelf because small children were about to come over, you were
>moving said vase "out of arm's sway." Stephanie von Buchau always
>believed, correctly, I should think, that "a soft dancer turneth away
>But the overwhelming majority of Mondegreens come from song lyrics.
>Remember on the East Side and the West Side when me and Mamie
>O'Rourke "risked our lives in traffic"? Remember when Simon and
>Garfunkel sang hauntingly about how "partially saved was Mary and Tom"?
>Remember that touching moment in "I'm in the Mood for Love" when the
>singer reveals his favorite nickname for his beloved?
>                 I'm in the mood for love,
>                 Simply because you're near me,
>                 Funny Butt, when you're near me ...
>There was the Bob Dylan song with the memorable refrain: "Dead ants are
>my friends, they're blowin' in the wind." There was the great Crystal Gayle
>song "Doughnuts Make Your Brown Eyes Blue." There was the equally
>  wonderful Maria Muldaur song "Midnight After You're Wasted."
>Val Kruger heard Jose Feliciano's famous recording of "Feliz Navidad" as
>"Police naughty dog," and now so will you. Barry McCarthy mentioned
>another popular Spanish song, "One Ton Tomato." Melissa McChesney
>always heard "My baby likes the Western movies" as "My baby's like a wet
>sock moving."
>Two great Paul McCartney Mondegreens: The lines of French in "Michelle"
>were heard by Kathy Stawhorn's daughter as "Michelle, ma bell, Sunday
>monkey won't play piano song, play piano song." Several people have heard
>the line in "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" that goes "the girl with
>kaleidoscope eyes" as "the girl with colitis goes by."
>                 There are many more; many more -- I have envelopes stuffed
>with them. But our eyes grow weary and our stomachs grow hungry; we must
>now, in the words of the old Christmas carol, "sleep in heavenly peas."

gcohen at umr.edu

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