It’s not easy being mondegreen


A mondegreen is defined as  the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it and new meaning.

Credit for the coining of the term goes to  American writer Sylvia Wright. In 1954, Wright’s essay in Harper’s magazine pointed out where the term comes from.

In the piece, she described how, as a young girl, she misheard the last line of the first stanza from the 17th-century ballad titled “The Bonny Earl O’Moray.”

The writer remembers how her mother read the poem aloud, and she heard::

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,

And Lady Mondegreen. 

The fourth line really reads “And laid him on the green.” There was no double homicide involved.

In 2008 the mondegreen was officially added to the Miriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, It can also be found in the Oxford English Dictionary and

I am researching for a possible future magazine article on modegreens.  Here are
a new meaning. Commonly, it is applied to a poem or song lyrics.

Aside from songs and poems, here are a few mondegreens in everyday usage.

In the world of high-tech, the term open source software is bantered around. Some, not in the know hear this as “open sores software.”  Sounds painful—and gross.

Speaking of pain, there is no such thing as a heartbreak monitor. (Heart rate monitor, yes)

Also on the medical front, you may suffer from very close veins, but they only treat varicose veins.

Some people have cable television, some a dish and some paper view.  Ooops, that is pay-per-view.

Businesses should take note of their slogans too.  At least one-person thought Coke was saying have a coconut smile.

I will close this post by telling you that maybe someday I will be in line to win a Pullet Surprise. (Pulitzer Prize—yeah, right!)

What mondegreens have you hear?


5 responses to “It’s not easy being mondegreen

  1. Hi Bob,
    I really enjoyed your “Mondegreen” info. And, I don’t know if my hated word usage falls into that category, but it certainly is a misuse of words. I hate “gone missing” and “went missing.” They sound like redunance to me. The example I say to people who might use “gone missing,” is this: Rather than– When we returned home from vacation we discovered that our dog had “gone missing.” – You could say, When we returned home from vacation we discovered that our dog was missing. Or…we discovered that our dog was gone. But, “gone missing!” QUIT IT! The problem is that newcasters continually use those words.

  2. Anonymous I like that. Want to write up a short blog post on it to be a guest post on wordsbybob? There is a lawyer in Calif. (Billybob) that comments regularly. He loves this stuff too.
    Also, did you vote for my blog in the Best Grammar Blog of 2011 contest?

  3. A mondegreen of my youth comes from “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At the time, the Milwaukee Braves were still in my home state of Wisconsin, (yes, a long time ago) and I would swear the national anthem ended with “… and the home of the Braves.” Needless to say I was confused for a while when the Braves moved to Atlanta and the national anthem, which obviously referred to my home state, didn’t change, too.

  4. “There is a lawyer in Calif. (Billybob) that comments regularly.” My pet peeve is writers (and theoretically pro speakers on radio and TV) who missed the grammar lesson that “that” is used to refer to objects, but when referring to people one should use “who.”

  5. Here’s a couple mondegreens I’ve heard. First, I’ve heard lots of kids talk about their “heartbeeps”. I don’t know if that comes from the fact that so many things in kids’ lives today beep, or if it comes specifically from the heart monitor machine that beeps to show the heart beat.
    Second, I’ve been told that my cousin, who is about 10 years older than me and is the daughter of a minister, learned many hymns before she could read. One of those was “Onward Christian Soldiers”, except she had a severe mondegreen problem on the last line. It is suppose to read “with the cross of Jesus going on before.” My cousin sang, “with the cross-eyed Jesus crawling on the floor!” Nobody noticed this, until she got worried about it and asked her father why Jesus was cross-eyed!