November 14, 2012


Under: Language | Random thoughts

I’m astonished to find I’ve not yet posted about the wonderful thing that is the mondegreen.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s applied to a mishearing of something – for instance, the words of a song or poem. The name was coined by the American writer, Sylvia Wright, who as a child would listen as her mother recited an ancient Scots ballad, ‘The Bonny Earl O’Moray.’ One verse went:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

Except it didn’t, not really. The actual fourth line was “And laid him on the green”. Sylvia Wright said, “The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.”

She’s quite right. They are. For instance, the Two Ronnies’ ‘Four Candles’ sketch is full of mondegreens.¬†Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song ‘Bad Moon Rising’ has the line “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” which is frequently misheard as “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

And I used to go out with a girl who was convinced the first line of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was as follows:

“Is this the real life? Is this just Battersea?”



What do you think?

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