Monday, July 28, 2008

Here's to Mondegreens

First, an apology to my Vast Public (all two of you) for my remissness in posting. I had promised a post or two about Celtic music. Said post(s) never materialized. Mea culpa!

Well, not that anyone was waiting with baited breath or anythng. But here's my (partial) excuse anyway: I write for a living. (If you can call advertising copy "writing.") And, by the end of the workday or work week, I've pretty much shot my bolt. I don't mind commenting on other people's blogs, although even that is getting old. But posting on my own -- sometimes that simply seems too daunting.

But, be that as it may, I have a moment or two now and a small reserve of energy, so I thought I'd post on mondegreens.

You know about mondegreens even if you've never heard the term. Remember Jimi Hendrix's "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy"? That's a classic mondegreen.

A mondegreen is a mis-heard line or phrase from a poem or song. Here's Wikipedia's take on the term (complete with etymology):

I won't say I'm the Mondegreen Queen, but I've certainly committed my share. My husband, too, has hatched a few mondegreens in his time. When I first knew him, way back when, he confided that one of his favorite songs was Ghost Riders in the Sky. If you're familiar with this song (and it's a good 'un), then you probably know that the Ghost Riders of the title are "trying to catch the devil's herd / Across these endless skies." Well, my husband could have sworn that the lyrics were: "...trying to catch the devil's herd / Of frosties in the sky." When I asked him what frosties were, he said they were a kind of cow.

I shouldn't laugh, although I can't help it. Recently, in any event, my husband and I committed a mondegreen together. A marital mondegreen, you might say. (Well, we are one flesh and all.) We're both very fond of Celtic music (as I've mentioned before), including Scottish songs. And one of our favorite Scottish songs is A Parcel of Rogues, a setting of a famous poem by Robert Burns. One of the verses begins:

What force or guile
Could not subdue
Through many warlike ages
Is rocked now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages.

Well, both hubby and I were convinced that the lyrics actually went: "What false Argyle could not subdue..." Which made perfect sense to us, because apparently Argyle was one of those Scottish clans that made nicey-nice with the English, thereby incurring the wrath of their fellow Highlanders.

As mondegreeners go, though, my husband and I are rank amateurs. My all-time favorite mondegreen was concocted by the sister of my friend Carol.

Remember the song I Fought the Law, and the Law Won? You would if you were Of a Certain Age, like me. The song was a hit back around 1965, and the refrain goes like this:

Breakin' rocks in the hot sun,
I fought the Law, and the Law won,
I fought the Law, and the Law won.

Well, Carol's sister, it seems, was convinced that the lyrics actually went (are you ready for this?): "Hot Dogs in Love in a Round World."

Once, when she and Carol were driving somewhere, the song in question came tootling over the car radio, whereupon Carol's sister began singing along lustily, "Hot dogs in love in a round world..." At which point, Carol lost it. I would have, too.

When Carol first told me about this, I laughed so hard I thought I would split a gasket. Then (perhaps drawing unconsciously on my Lit-Crit graduate-school background), I offered my interpretation: "Well, it kind of makes sense, doesn't it? Here are these poor hot dogs, supplanted by fast-food hamburgers (which are round, of course), so it seems to them (the hot dogs) as if the entire world has gone circular and hamburgeresque. In their loneliness. the boy and girl hot dog find each other and fall in love, and it's 'you and me together, babe, against the round hamburger world'...."

Carol said, "UH-huh. No, Diane, you can't make it make sense. It's pure nuttiness, period."

Well, maybe so. But it sure is a great mondegreen.


FrGregACCA said...

Ah, yes, and who could forget these immortal lyrics?

"You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille/Four hundred kids and a crop in the field..."

"Running Bear/Loved a little white girl..."

"Don't go out tonight/They're bound to take your life/There's a bathroom on the right."

FrGregACCA said...

A couple more just came to mind. Can't resist:

Catholic school kids' prayers:

"Spare us O Lord, from these Thy gifts which we are about to receive...."

"Hail, Mary, full of grapes..."

and, continuing the above, from the author (or his brother) of Angela's Ashes:

...the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou, a monk swimmin'..."

dianonymous said...

Fr. Greg, I am laughing my head off here.

Mondegreens Rule!

KathleenLundquist said...

Hi, Diane - I cam over from MCJ. it's nice to see you blogging - I always appreciate your comments over there.

My favorite: from a Barry Manilow song:

"Looks like tomatoes/ Left each other on the way..."

Pauli said...

Mondegreens rule! This is a bit gross, but I was positive that the ZZ Top song "Sharp Dressed Man" had the words "bowel movement" in it. The line was "When I step out I'm gonna do you in." 'Cept the lead singer kind of has that GWB Texas mumble.

Richard Froggatt said...

Hi Diane,

Your interpretation of the hot dogs I think is spot on!

My wife's Mondegreen, from watching CSI, The Who - Coooooooooool Water, as opposed to Whoooooo are You?

dianonymous said...

Welcome, Kathleen, Pauli & Richard!! Thanks so much for visiting my humble blog-abode. :-)

This weekend I hope to customize it a bit--add a blog-roll and all that cool stuff. Maybe I'll even figure out how to do that Link Thingy.

In the meantime, have y'all visited the Motherlode of Mondegreens?

Good for many chuckles, methinks!

CGHill said...

As seen in my very back yard:

"Gray skin rots in the hot sun
I fought the lawn and the lawn won
I fought the lawn and the lawn won."

SPF 8 may not be enough.

dianonymous said...

cghill, whoever you are, you have made my day. I needed that chuckle--thanks!!

The BadgerMum said...

Loved the Wiki link you posted -- this one had me laughing so hard I couldn't breath:

"The wild, strange battle cry 'Haffely, Gaffely, Gaffely, Gonward!'"


By the way, it's "bated" breath, meaning supressed or held back, not "baited" breath, as in, I dunno, your readers have worm-laden hooks in their mouths trying to get you to bite and blog some more.

(Merrily Spinning)

Diane said...

LOL, thanks, Kelly!!

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