You probably know a few mondegreens, even if you didn’t know they had a name. It’s when the words of a song or poem are misheard to give a different meaning. The word comes from 17th-century ballad “The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray”:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen
The final line should be “laid him on the green”
A fairly well-known example is the hymn “Glady, the cross-eyed bear”, or “Gladly the cross I’d bear” to give it its correct name.
Usually a mondegreen is just one word or phrase, but in the 1980s, Maxcell managed to fill a 30-second commercial with them:
Here are a few of my favourite mondegreens. Despite knowing (usually) what the real words are, I still use my version when singing along to the radio. Each video clip should start a few seconds before the mondegreended (is that a word?) phrase.
First, we have Neil Diamond singing about The Reverend Blue Jeans:
This song by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton appears to be dedicated to Ireland’s Industry:
Next, we have The Foundations singing what I call “the xylophone song” because of the line “I’ll be a xylophone”:
In The Days of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams I wonder who Shula was and what was so special about her feet:
For a long time, I thought this UB40 song started with “I’m a Prima Donna”
And I only found out a couple of years ago that Matthew Wilder wasn’t running “on church ground”
As a quick aside, that video makes me ask “what was going on in the 1980s?”
No matter how many times I hear this recent song by Calvin Harris (which is thankfully few), I always hear “don’t be afraid to catch fish”.
The real words are “catch feels” but I think my version makes more sense. I’ve even made up a short scenario where you might indeed have cause to say those words. Suppose you invite a friend on a fishing trip, but they are reluctant to come because of a food allergy. You would say “it’s only a problem when you eat them; you don’t need to be afraid to catch fish”.
Another more recent song. What is the Windsor Race being sung about here by Ward Thomas?
Listen to the start of this Queen song. Freddie sings “Each morning I get off my toilet”:
A special mention for Kenny Rogers: not only is this the second of his songs to make the list, it’s also the only one with a double-mondegreen. It tells the story of the father of many children, whose dilapidated footwear finally falls apart: “you found a fine time to leave me, loose heel. Four hundred children …”
And finally, I’m sorry if I ruin this Lion King song for you, but have you ever noticed the chant of “Arsene Wenger” at the beginning?