Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Archive for the tag “mondegreen”

Jimmy Fallon mondegreen

Courtesy of the Tonight Show

Courtesy of Late Night Live

I like Jimmy Fallon, I really do, and I think Late Night Live has flashes of brilliance, but as far as mondegreens go, he ain’t no Peter Kay…

Jimmy references some really funny mondegreens, such as the lyrics of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer misheard as “Hold me close and tie me down, sir,” and Michael Jackson’s Wanna be startin’ something misheard as “I’m ashamed of the side of my moccasins; I’m ashamed of the side of my moccasins,” (try singing it). But at times it was hard to know which song he was referring to, even though he had the benefit of a twitter storm to pull his mondegreens from and a criminally under-used house band in the studio (what were they there for, if not to help us work out which song the misheard lyrics came from?). One fail, for me at least, was “Hit me with your pet shark,” – does anyone know what song that’s supposed to be from? Anyone?

Read more…

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.

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’…

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