The musical misunderstandings called mondegreens As an English teacher and language columnist, I know as well as anyone that...
The musical misunderstandings called mondegreensAs an English teacher and language columnist, I know as well as anyone that the world is full of errors, errors that sometimes seem more numerous than monkeys at a banana convention.There are spoonerisms, which are unintended reversals like "The Lord is a shoving leopard." There are spellchecker-caused boners, like a recent student who wrote me, "Thanks for the calcification." There are plain ol' malapropisms, which give George W. Bush a grand total of one thing in common with my mother, who has been known to warn me that too much typing could lead to carnal tunnelvision syndrome or that I should remember I am allergic to Pennsylvania.Then there are eggcorns, which are misspellings based on logic, such as writing the Yiddish tuchas as tuckass or moot point as mute point. These errors are as natural as wind in Chicago, though I'd take an eggcorn over that goddamn wind anytime.Eggcorns are a newly identified type of misunderstanding, but a goof doesn't have to be new and shiny to be awesome and hilarious. The mondegreen is sort of like an eggcorn, but it involves a misunderstanding of song lyrics, and there's no logic required. This leaves plenty of room for lines like "Oh, we are sailing, yes, give Jesus pants"-a mishearing of John Lennon's anthem for peace that should please sailors, tailors, and anyone who enjoys finding humor in language.The term mondegreen, appropriately enough, has its origin in a mondegreen itself. Author Sylvia Wright coined the term in Harper's in 1954, after explaining that she thought the lyric "laid him on the green" was "Lady Mondegreen," in the ballad "The Bonny Earl of Murray." 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."Indeed, part of what makes mondegreen-collecting so rewarding is that the "wrong" lyrics so often sound so very, very right. The fraked-up collaboration between poor enunciation and worse hearing results in a type of poetry that, unlike so many lyrics themselves, is unpretentious and fresh. Though I was a wee lad when I first heard "King of Pain," even a wee doofus could tell that song is a hot, steaming pile of self-aggrandizing, navel-licking poppycock, so even now I am thrilled to know someone heard that lyric as "It's my destiny to be the king of Spain." I like Christmas music about as much as I like hot coffee delivered to my pants via fire hose, but even I have to admit that the subgenre of Christmas mondegreens does make an unpleasant musical songbook much easier to tolerate. Who could resist a line like, "Hark the hare-lipped angels sing"? Even more than Mariano Rivera, mondegreens bring relief (along with surprising medical testimony such as "Doughnuts make my brown eyes blue").There have been a couple world-champion collectors of mondegreens. The most prolific might be Gavin Edwards, whose mondegreen compendiums have been titled ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy, He's Got the Whole World in his Pants, When a Man Loves a Walnut, and Deck the Halls with Buddy Holly. Also, Jon Carroll has been mondegreen collector-at-large for the San Francisco Gate for many years.In a 2004 column, Carroll points out that, much like dating and baseball, the mondegreen game is prone to cheating. After questioning the truthfulness of reader-submitted lines like "I've got sperms that jingle-jangle," Carroll wrote, "That is the problem with mondegreens. It is certainly easy to mishear a song lyric or radio advertisement or popular phrase, but it is also easy to create a risible mishearing. One might perhaps be angling for a little newspaper ink."But you know what? Even if some mondegreens are intentional revisions rather than unintentional comedy, I don't care. If someone made up "Lucy and this guy eat lions" instead of genuinely hearing that, I applaud them. A funny line is a funny line. If the tri-state area were full of more lion-eating ladies named Lucy, it would be a better place. I'll take any amusement I can get in this vale of tears/world of crap.And that's where you come in, comment-meisters. Got any new or old musical manglings you'd like to share, or make up and then share, like "I'm the god of Velveeta, baby"? You know what to do after the beep.