from today's NewScan: Mondegreens

vida morkunas vidamorkunas at TELUS.NET
Wed Feb 5 16:38:23 UTC 2003


      In his recent book "A Word a Day," Anu Garg writes:
      Face it, you have been guilty of it since early childhood. Beginning
with the nursery rhymes you heard on the playground to the national anthem
you recited in school to crooning with the love songs on the radio, you have
been misinterpreting and repeating them. Now you know there is a word for it
(mondegreen) and that you are not alone. Luckily there is no Mondegreen
Police. No matter what your native tongue, chances are you have experienced
mondegreens in your language.
      Whether you consider mondegreens a case of aural dyslexia or a variant
of Freudian slip, the results are often much more fascinating than the
original matter. The mondegreen effect is not limited to lyrics either. More
than one school librarian has seen distraught pupils complaining of not
being able to locate the book mentioned in their class: Charles Darwin's
seminal work, "Oranges and Peaches."
      So how did we come to call this oral-cum-aural phenomenon mondegreen?
It all started when a courageous woman named Sylvia Wright confessed to
mishearing the following words of a Scottish folksong:

They hae slain the Earl of Moray / And laid him on the green


They hae slain the Earl Amurray / And Lady Mondegreen

      Imagine Wright's disappointment when she discovered that there was no
Lady Mondegreen who valiantly gave her life to be with her love. She wrote
her story in the November 1954 issue of Harper's Magazine and ever since we
have labeled these occurrences in honor of Lady Mondegreen's sacrifice. Here
are mondegreens and a few other words about words.
      Mondegreen (MON-di-green): noun. A word or phrase resulting from
mishearing a word or phrase. Some examples follow. From their Pledge of
Allegiance that begins with "I led the pigeons to the flag" to the warning
that the school's "Super-Nintendo" ("superintendent") is coming for
inspection, kids are one of the best sources of mondegreens.
      No More Burnt Toast, Please! A few months ago my five-year-old son
informed us that he thought he was "black toast intolerant" (lactose
intolerant). -- Michael Brunelle, Charlottesville, Virginia
      A TOYOTA. From my four-year-old son: That's not a toy ota, it's a big
ota. -- Trina Bouvet, Sassenage, France
      Diary, Uh! There was a little girl who wrote home from summer camp,
explaining that she had developed "dire rear". -- Daniel F. Harrison,
Farmington Hills, Michigan
      Songful or Sinful? The Sunday School treat involved a trip out, much
eating, and the singing of hymns during the return journey. The children
happily sang, "We can sing, full though we be", rather subverting the
original "Weak and sinful though we be". -- Peter Collingwood, Colchester,
      Toes Too Have an Aroma. After returning from the podiatrist, I told my
husband I had a neuroma (damaged nerve between the toes). My husband
replied, "I could have told you your toes have an aroma." -- Tamara H.
Thomas, Salt Lake City, Utah
      Life After Death. Years ago, when my children were small and we were
leaving for an out-of-town trip, my babysitter's father was supposed to come
to the house to pick up the spare key for her. We had never met him before.
Around dinner time, when the doorbell rang, I opened the door and found a
clergyman standing there who said, "A man's dead." While I was processing
this, I gave him, I'm sure, one of my blankest "what are you talking about"
looks. He repeated himself. When it dawned on me, I was embarrassed and went
to get him the key. What he had actually said was "I'm Anne's dad." -- Susan
Frank, Rockledge, Florida
      Heron, My Love.  Television and radio commercials are wonderful
providers of mondegreens. My particular favorite was a vacuum cleaner that
promised to pick up all of my "pet heron dirt." As an avid birdwatcher, I
would love to have a Great Blue Heron as a pet, but I imagine they do make a
horrible mess. However, after listening more closely, however, I learned
that this sweeper actually picks up "pet hair and dirt". Alas, no pet heron
for me. -- Barbara Kirby, Dallas, Texas
      The Taste of Ultimate Convenience. Of course, there's always the
company that offers "the ultimate inconvenience". I've heard this in radio
ads not once, but twice! -Vicki Blier, Lexington, Massachusetts"
See for Anu and Suti Garg's "A Word a Day"--
or look for it in your favorite library. (We donate all revenue from our
book recommendations to literacy action programs.)

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