Thursday, January 31, 2013

Have you ever seen. . . a Mondegreen?

Have you ever seen. . . a Mondegreen?

To me that sounds like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Or  something to eat, like a madeleine or a macaroon or a meringue.

Or a meringa? Marimba? Marembo? Now we’re getting off course.

The name of this bit of word-torture (which refers to a mishearing of a song lyric or a common phrase) originally came from a line of boring poetry, which some boring old person mis-heard:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual fourth line is "And laid him on the green”.

So what, eh? But there’s more. More weird names for things you’re not spozed to say, but say anyway cuz you’re an idiot. I will let Wiki describe it because I'm too lazy to:

The unintentionally incorrect use of similar-sounding words or phrases in speaking is a malapropism. If there is a connection in meaning, it can be called an eggcorn. If a person stubbornly sticks to a mispronunciation after being corrected, that can be described as mumpsimus.

Mumpsimus. Sounds like somebody from that Monty Python movie Life of Brian (i. e. Biggus Dickus), maybe with a  glandular condition.  I don’t want to believe it, but it’s in Wikipedia, so it MUST be right.

But before Wikipedia even existed, we had mondegreens: creative mis-hearings of things like hymn lines, which unintentionally led to brand new Biblical characters such as “Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear” and “Round John Virgin (mother and child)”.

I once overheard my kids singing O Canada (before a pretend hockey game played with stuffed bears) with the line, “Ah, tease a man” (rather than “God keep our land”, a much less imaginitive reading).

But the best-known merengues or whatever-they-are (marimbas?) seem to come from pop music, where the lyrics are so blurred by stoned musicians that even THEY don’t know what they mean.

Wiki quotes two classics:

     There's a bathroom on the right (the line at the end of each verse of "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival: "There's a bad moon on the rise")
    'Scuse me while I kiss this guy (from a lyric in the song "Purple Haze", by Jimi Hendrix: "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky").

Kissing “this guy” makes more sense than kissing "the sky", which is idiotic. But what about that line from the Beatles’ first hit, She Loves You?

“You know it’s up to you
I think it’s only fair
(blank blank blank blank blank)
Apologize to her”

When I sang this along with my gang of ten-year-old friends, we sang something that sounded like ‘Frighten her to do”. We got by with this, because no one cared what the words were anyway. Paul was so cute ‘n fluffy, and Ringo made us want to take care of him. John was scary and looked a little mean, and George was just the fourth man, but never mind, they were the other two legs that held up the table.

It was only years later that I thought to myself, “Frighten her to DO?” and had to look up the real line.

Which is!

“Pride can hurt you too.”

There’s a sort of “oh, of course” reaction when we finally hear the correct words, as in my revelation/epiphany over “that line” in Elton John’s Rocket Man. I always thought it was,
“Rocket Man, wearing out his shoes in Avalon” (or Babylon).

You will never guess in a million years where I heard the right line. It was on a video of the incomparable William Shatner (and I like William Shatner, by the way – that’s for another post), in which his diction still carried something of that Shakespearian clarity he had when he started his career with the Stratford Festival.

He lounged in a world-weary fashion, smoking a cigarette, each line drawn out for about thirty seconds, with as much histrionic emotion and wild inflection as a rollercoaster. This was one of his first self-parodies, though the audience (this was in about 1978) took it seriously and applauded his performance wildly.

So what’s the real line?

“Burning out his fuse up here alone”.

Who'd-a thunk it?

Mondegreens can become malignant, as when they mestastasize into foreign-language stuff.  I remember seeing something called Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames which only made sense (sort of) when you read it out loud:

  1. (In case you didn't get that the first time - and by the way, how stupid can a person BE? You mean you didn't GET it? What the hell is the - oh well. Here it is again. Read it out loud, will you?)

    Et qui rit des curés d'Oc? 
    De Meuse raines, houp! de cloques. 
    De quelles loques ce turque coin. 
    Et ne d'anes ni rennes, 
    Ecuries des curés d'Oc.

Makes me want to go put on my old recording of Inna-Gada-Da-Vi-Da.

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