Monday, August 04, 2008


Another word to add to your vocabulary, another reason to love Wikipedia.

I was listening to “Proud Mary” and googled the lyrics to figure out the phrase “pumped a lot of tane.” The Tina Turner version is ‘tane, for octane, which makes sense as the kind of lousy, hard job someone might have in New Orleans, but wikipedia suggests, too, that the line may be a mondegreen, helpfully linking to an entry on the topic.

The coinage comes from a 1954 essay by Sylvia Wright in Harper’s:
When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray, [sic]
And Lady Mondegreen.
The actual fourth line is "And laid him on the green." As Wright explained the need for a new term, "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."
I love mondegreens—and I’m thrilled to have a word for them! The homespun ones are best. The widely circulating ones tend to have a bit of a Reader’s Digest-y “oh, the funny things kids think” quality.

In high school, a friend of mine, very straight-laced but funny and brilliant, loved the Soft Cell hit “Tainted Love.” This seemed to open new windows into her tolerance and personality until we determined that she thought the song was “Painted Dove”!

Do you have a favorite?


Anonymous said...

You know the Brel song "Ne me quitte pas"? In one line Brel says "je t'acheterai des perles de pluie venus des pays ou il ne pleut pas," but for the longest time I thought he was saying "des parapluies." My husband found it hilarious.

Anne Camille said...

Oh, Jessica's parapluies is hilarious!

I love mondegreens, but I wonder if there isn't (or shouldn't be) a special category for those that are misheard in song lyrics.

Last winter my cousin & I had a marathon email session, confessing lyrics we misunderstood as kids. I can't remember most of them now (and even I don't have items in my sent folder that far back!) I think the funniest ones, though, were from CCR songs. Yeah, there's the overplayed YouTube 'Bathroom on the Right'. I'm warning you, if you've never heard it, don't search for it; you'll never hear Bad Moon Rising again in quite the right way! But, my favorite was 'Anne Marie's an Elephant' or better yet, "mammaries and elephants" instead of "tamborines and elephants". And I don't even want to admit what my confused pre-teen mind thought that dinasaur was doing with Buck Owens (dinasaur below him...), but I sure wanted whatever that magician was serving. Do-do-do, looking out my backdoor!

Thinking about this made me laugh -- something I really needed after a very long 18hr day!

genevieve said...

My favourite has to be little Ramona, of Beverley Cleary fame, and her 'dawsily light' (Dawn's early light).

There are more than a few half-known pop songs I do that to, though, one being an Australian classic with the line (don't laugh) 'Cheap wine and a three-day growth' which I thought for years was 'Cheap wine and teenage girls'. Makes me incredibly ignorant in some circles, I'm afraid.

genevieve said...

And furthermore, it was 'The Earl Of Moray' - it's also a song, which I know a little better than I do any Cold Chisel numbers.

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