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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mondegreens: When Hearing People Make Mistakes

On this blog I’ve shared some of my funny “Say what?” moments. But hard of hearing people aren’t the only ones who hear things wrong; it can happen to hearing people too. Have you heard of mondegreens? A mondegreen is the phenomenon of a commonly misheard song lyric or phrase of poetry. How does this happen? According to : “Sometimes it's the speed or pitch that a lyric is delivered at, but often, a song lyric or recited poem will become famous not for what it says, but for what it sounds like it says to the uncareful ear.”

I remember a funny example that was featured on a T-Mobile ad awhile back. There’s a couple in a car discussing the lyrics to a classic Def Leppard song. The guy thinks the song says, “Pour some shook-up ramen on me.” His girl is incredulous that he doesn’t know that the correct words are “Pour some sugar on me.” To settle their argument, they use a T-Mobile cell phone to call a librarian. The next scene shows a librarian primly reading Def Leppard’s racy lyrics. Fortunately, I’ve never had to answer any questions like that!

One of my favorite mondegreens from TVTropes is "There's a bathroom on the right" (the line at the end of each verse of "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The correct words are "There's a bad moon on the rise"). The site says that “John Fogerty has been known to sing the Mondegreen at concerts, for a laugh.” I’m listening to the song as I write this and now all I can hear is the wrong lyrics. Tee hee.

If you’re looking for a chuckle check out this funny website dedicated to misheard song lyrics. The address ( is a nod to the famous mondegreen of Jimi Hendrix’s song “Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” You can click on each mondegreen to read the right words and vote whether you thought the mondegreen was funny or not.

Jon Carroll a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle publishes mondegreens regularly in his column. You can read one of his classic articles here.

Do you have any mondegreens you’d like to share?


Li-Li said...

I think I made the embarrasing mistake of thinking Sting was singing "Salami" instead of the now-obvious "So Lonely" in the Police song of the same name, but this video has to be my favorite phonetic interpretation of some very hard-to-comprehend song lyrics:

kim said...

OMG-- LiLi's mom that was hilarious. I'm still wiping tears from my face.

Yeah Sarah-- we used to have a book of song lyrics and what people usually misheard. I just recently got rid of it. Now I wish I'd kept it.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Li-Li,
That was so funny!!! Thanks for sharing.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Kim,
I haven't come across a book like that before. I did a quick Amazon book search and came up with two titles by Gavin Edwards: 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: And Other Misheard Song Lyrics and Deck the Halls With Buddy Holly and Other Misheard Christmas Lyrics.

Anonymous said...

Well, I've always been hearing impaired so this isn't a hearing person mistake. :) When I was in high school, this Pat Benatar song was popular on the radio. I thought she was singing "Henry was a bit shy."

It was "Hit Me With Your Best Shot".

My friends cracked up when they found out what I thought she was singing. Whoops! LOL

~ Wendi

SpeakUp Librarian said...

That's funny, Wendi. I guess Henry was "gun shy" since the next line is "fire away" :) Thanks for sharing!

Keith said...

I learned the term "mondegreen" in late 2007. One thing led to another, and now I’m the administrator of a flaky effort called MANDY GREEN Project, largely aimed at helping establish "mondegreen" as a household word. It involves a quirky novel written by MANDY GREEN (yes, "mondegreen" misheard as "Mandy Green") whose story centers on a mondegreen ("Gesundheit Whistle" misheard as "Gazoon High Twizzle").

Please check it out and tell your friends and library patrons, especially the ones named MANDY GREEN.

My son said the whole effort is hopeless, adding that he hates to be the bear of bad news. :)

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Hi Keith,
Welcome to my blog. Thanks for sharing about your Mandy Green project. That's wonderful that you're raising money for your library. Good luck with your endeavor!

Sam said...

Hi - am just wading my way through your archives - so far so good - this one cracks me up though - I had no idea that there was a phrase that described the kind of thing that I thought only I did!!

Sam said...

sorry - me again - am laughing so hard at this Kisstheguy website that the cat is looking at me funny! (thank you!!)

SpeakUp Librarian said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this post, Sam!