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.
Molly’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’…