Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Oops…

I heard of a great version of lyrical mondegreen this week, relating to The Gap Band’s ‘Oops upside your head‘. Even if you’re too young to remember this first time around, you must have heard it; in fact you’ve almost certainly been mortified by your tipsy mum and her friends sitting on the floor and shimmying along to it with the rest of the wedding, bar mitzvah or Christmas party crowd.

3870652466_d3245b42bdAt my friend Alexis’s wedding party at Fulham Palace on Tuesday, I ended up swapping stories with Rachel, a friend I used to sing with in a gospel group called ‘Many Rivers’ (we had a regular gospel Sunday lunch slot at the Oxo Tower, and the 606 Jazz Club). Rachel mentioned a well-endowed girlfriend of hers who believed that The Gap Band were singing ‘Say, boobs upside your head, say, boobs upside your head’: this makes more sense when you realise that she has huge boobs, which really do end up upside her head when she shimmies.

I was hoping to find a specific term for misheard song lyrics but I don’t believe one exists, hence lyrical mondegreen. However, I did find soramimi, which is the Japanese term for lyrics in one language being misheard as intelligible words in another. (Apparently that’s what happens with the ‘Numa Numa’ song…) To show you what I mean, this is Mike Sutton, aka Buffalax, using soramimi on YouTube, overlaying Hindi film music clips with the words he thinks he hears in English, to humorous effect.

I’ll be posting more misheard lyrics later: in the meantime, it would be great to hear your examples.

dig a little deeper

61K0InWjL4L._SX385_My nephew Sebastian had a panoply of changed words and meanings:

“Effisgator!” he used to shout as my sister drove down the M4: it took a while to work out that this digger-loving three year old was spotting yellow JCB excavators (this was pre-Bob the Builder so perhaps inspired by Dig Dig Digging?).

“Stacky backy mash boe!” This was Seb’s frustrated two year old’s version of ‘just back off [or similar four letter words ending in **ck] and leave me alone’. (I might adopt that one myself: it would certainly save on the swear box donations.)

“Hinxie needs some milk”. This was Seb (aged 2 1/2) trying to say ‘Think he needs some milk’, when he was worried that his crying baby brother Alex might need breastfeeding. From then on, Alex was known as ‘Hinxy’, later ‘Hinx’.

Be good to hear your own versions of baby-talk, family expressions and phrases and names that just don’t feel right if you change the order around…

mondegreen

Sometimes children’s mixed up words are the result of their not being able to get their mouths around a difficult word or phrase – my nephew Seb saying ‘Effisgator!‘ for ‘excavator’, for instance.

At other times, as when Molly said ‘Ken’s Pants‘ for ‘Penzance’, they’re the result of kids making their own story out to make sense of something they couldn’t understand, or that they’ve misheard.

photoMolly’s phrase is an example of mondegreen. And if you’ve never heard the phrase (I hadn’t, until a Wiki search earlier today), and you’re wondering what on earth I’m on about, mondegreen is the mishearing of a phrase because of a near-homophony. In other words, something sounds like something else, so you mis-say it.

A classic example of this is the transformation of ‘Gladly my cross I’d bear’, from the eponymous hymn, to ‘Gladly, my cross-eyed bear’: even if this is, as rumoured, an urban myth, it still makes me go ‘Ah’.

The etymology of Mondegreen can be followed here, on Wikipedia. Briefly, an American writer named Sylvia Wright coined the term for an essay she wrote for Harper’s Magazine in 1954.

Her mother had read aloud to her from Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,

And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual fourth line was ‘And laid him on the green’…

orderly conduct

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Have you ever noticed how, when you talk about couples you know, you say their names in a particular order? In our family, for instance, we always say Jilly and Colin, never Colin and Jilly, and Sue and Donald, not Donald and Sue… Somehow it would feel wrong if you changed the names around. Why is that? The lyrical quality of the word order, perhaps? Your subconscious mind taking over and letting you know who matters most? Read more…

striking the wrong chord

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“Me myself personally, I do prefer the funky stuff…”

Jimmy G was the son of a local haulier, drawn to our house by the presence of four nubile teenage girls, but spotted by my dad and made to listen to his piano-playing. Once my dad started playing, it was always hard to stop him, but this time he made the mistake of asking Jimmy mid-piece what he thought of the music he was playing. When he heard Jimmy’s ripe and rustic response, “Me myself personally, I do prefer the funky stuff”, his hands briefly trembled in mid-air and then fell to the keyboard with a cacophonous clang. Read more…

tongue-tied

Jack, aged 3 Do you remember the funny things your kids used to say when they were little? The special things you or your siblings said when you were tiny?

My stepson Jack and his sisters love their grandpa and always fight to sit next to him. Chris is a tall, thin ex-army colonel who joins in with all the fun, dive-bombs them in the swimming pool, drinks too much wine and flirts with all the ladies, and when Jack was two he used to call him Grandma Man.

Read more…

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