What is a Mondegreen?

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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.

A misheard, or 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.

tony_danza.jpg 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."

What about you? We'd love to know what some of your favorite misheard lyrics are.

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September 3, 2009 - 5:45am
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