Wednesday, 8 November 2017


A mondegreen is the mistaken hearing and, then, pronunciation of a word or phrase that is sung or spoken. The term came from a childhood experience of author Sylvia Wright. Here's how she heard the lyrics from this version of the Scottish ballad, "The Bonny Earl O' Moray:"

Ye Hielands an ye Lowlands
O, whaur hae ye been
They hae slain the Earl o' Moray
And Lady Mondegreen.

Eventually she learned that she had misheard, and mis-said, the Lady Mondegreen part. The lyrics actually say that they "slay the Earl O' Moray and laid him on the green." In 1954 Wright coined the term "mondegreen," and over time "mondegreen" spread into (relatively) common usage.

Sometimes the mondegreen version of a lyric sticks better than the original word. The Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" has a line about four calling birds. But did you know that the original carol referred to "four colley birds." The word colley meant black (perhaps a pronunciation of "coal-y"?) Well, somebody heard "calling" and it stuck.

Randy Bachman did at least two shows on mondegreens on his CBC show, Vinyl Tap, and Gavin Edwards gathered a collection of mondegreens in his book, “Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy.” There's even a website called Check that out for a few chuckles.

What are your favourite spoken or sung mondegreens?

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