We’ve all done it. We’ve misheard song lyrics or actual words. We’ve argued about whether someone was saying Laurel or Yanni.
But there is an actual term for that.
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, a mondegreen is “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung.”
I had a whole character in my first book that did this all the time.
Sylvia Wright made up the word in 1954 when she wrote an article about it for The Atlantic or possibly Harpers (these are the two most common citings), “The Death of Lady Mondegreen.”
She’d loved this Scottish song or poem that went
They hae slain the Earl Amurray
And laid him on the green.
That last line sounded like Lady Mondegreen to her.
Hearing is a two-step process. First, there is the auditory perception itself: the physics of sound waves making their way through your ear and into the auditory cortex of your brain. And then there is the meaning-making: the part where your brain takes the noise and imbues it with significance. That was a car alarm. That’s a bird. Mondegreens occur when, somewhere between the sound and the meaning, communication breaks down. You hear the same acoustic information as everyone else, but your brain doesn’t interpret it the same way. What’s less immediately clear is why, precisely, that happens.
The article goes on to say,
A common cause of mondegreens, in particular, is the oronym: word strings in which the sounds can be logically divided multiple ways. One version that Pinker describes goes like this: Eugene O’Neill won a Pullet Surprise.
Other times, the culprit is the perception of the sound itself: some letters and letter combinations sound remarkably alike, and we need further cues, whether visual or contextual, to help us out. In their absence, one sound can be mistaken for the other. For instance, in a phenomenon known as the McGurk effect, people can be made to hear one consonant when a similar one is being spoken. “There’s a bathroom on the right” standing in for “there’s a bad moon on the rise” is a succession of such similarities adding up to two equally coherent alternatives.
NME’s site has an article on the top forty misheard song lyrics and it’s hysterical.
It’s a British site and you should check it out, but their top three are:
Number One – Dire Straits’s “Money For Nothing.”
Wrong lyric: “Money for nothin’ and chips for free.”
Correct lyric: “Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free”
Number 2 Wrong Lyric – Paul Young’s “Everytime You Go Away.”
Wrong Lyric: “Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you.”
Correct lyric: “Every time you go away take a piece of me with you.”
Number 4 Wrong Lyric (Yes, we skipped three) – Starship’s ‘We Built This City.’
Wrong lyric: “We built this city on sausage rolls.”
Correct lyric: “We built this city on rock ‘n’ roll.”
Writing Tip of the Pod
It’s fun to play with words, to think about sounds.
Dog Tip for Life
Always take a piece of meat with you.
It’s my book! It’s coming out June 1! Boo-yah!
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
And we have a new podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook.
Here’s the link. This week’s podcast is all about strange things people do on dates.