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Weekend Word Wrap: mondegreens

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Today's edition of the Weekend Word Wrap is on mondegreens.

Long before I ever knew what a mondegreen was, I used to think the lyrics of David Bowie's "Suffragette City" went like this:

Hey man, oh leave me alone, you know
Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta
Hey man, I gotta straighten my face
This malaprop chick's just put my spine out of place

Of course, now I know the original malaprop chick is actually a "mellow-thighed chick," and my head hangs low in shame.

But we all do it, right? We all make up lyrics (even words!) when we don't know what the artist is actually singing.

Well, a misheard, thus made-up lyric, is called a mondegreen, after Lady Mondegreen.

So who is Lady Mondegreen? Well, she's a misheard lyric herself from an ancient Scottish ballad called "The Bonny Earl of Murray." The last two lines of the original lyric go like this:

"They have slain the Earl of Murray,
And they layd him on the green."

The American writer, Sylvia Wright, is the one who misheard the lyric when she was a child and wrote about it years later, coining the word "mondegreen" for this first time in a Harper's Magazine essay published in 1954.

So okay, "Lady Mondegreen." Not so funny, but the ballad is over 300 years old. Much funnier, perhaps, is the mondegreen used in the TV show, Friends, when Phoebe mishears the words of a certain Elton John song and sings, "Hold me closer Tony Danza."

tony_danza.jpgAs for my Suffragette City mondegreen, "malaprop"-isms will be the subject of next week's Weekend Word Wrap. In the meantime, we'd love to know what some of your favorite misheard lyrics are.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.


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