by Barbara D'Amato
I've just learned a fine new word. I've needed this word for years and never knew it existed. The word is "mondegreen." A mondegreen is a misheard word or phrase, but not just a simple misunderstanding. To be a mondegreen it has to give a new meaning to the word or phrase and it's best of all if the new meaning is funny.
Although nobody told me, "mondegreen" has been around since 1954 when the writer Sylvia Wright coined it in an essay she wrote for Harper's Magazine. She described her mother reading a poem to her from Percy's Reliques, the 17th century ballad called "The Bonny Earl O'Murray." It went--
"They hae slain the Earl O'Murray
And laid him on the green."
She heard it as:
They hae slain the Earl O'Murray
And Lady Mondegreen."
More than one child has thought the Lord's Prayer went this way, "Our father which art in heaven, Harold be thy name." My father's name actually was Harold, so I found this one very funny.
In the course of reading a lot of manuscripts, blogs, and some published material where somebody ought to have known better, I've run into a few goodies:
An author on a listserve, talking about a book he wanted to summarize: "This is the jest of it."
And yet another who was criticizing a writers net-presence, said, "He is being very short-sited."
And: "Charles was an invertebrate gambler."
And: "Mr. Sander received a plague for salesperson of the year."
A writer referring to the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal in New York said, "This is a real abject lesson." And, believe it or not, a blog referred to Spitzer's "peckerdillo." It's possible that this mondegreen was intentional.
Ed McBain used a childrens' misunderstanding of a hymn "Gladly the Cross I'd Bear" as a Matthew Hope title "Gladly the Cross-eyed Bear."
If you have some mondegreens -- and you must have run into many -- send them in. I jest love them.