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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 98 19:27:55 -0700
Just today I noticed that sometime back in 1996 I made a promise to
"put together a little explanation of mondegreens in the near future."
(See <http://www.langston.com/Fun_People/1996/1996BDC.html>.) Of course
I didn't say what that future would be near to. Near to never? No. Near
to now. Here it is. -psl
More than you want to know of, from, and about Mondegreens
Fun_People Special Report no. 19980601A by email@example.com
From: lanih@info.Berkeley.EDU (J. Lani Herrmann)
Mondegreens come from the quotation from the old English ballad:
Ye highlands and ye lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurry
And Lady Mondegreen
Which is the essayist Sylvia Wright's mishearing of "The Bonny Earl of
Murray" (Child ballad #181) in her mother's reading from Percy's _Reliques_.
She can be forgiven, for she was a child at the time. This is in "The Death
of Lady Mondegreen" in her book _Get away from Me with Those Christmas Gifts
and Other Reactions_ (New York: McGraw- Hill, 1957). The essay, which
originally appeared in _Harper's_ magazine, goes on to list other examples
of aural paronomasia, such as Hizzeray and Harold. "You know Harold: 'Our
Father who art in heaven, Harold be Thy name.'" And "'Surely Good Mrs.
Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life.'" And to spin Wright's yarns
about that entirely fictional population of her imagination.
You may have heard of Mondegreens because Jon Carroll, the Bay Area
columnist, occasionally brings fresh examples to his column. In fact, the
subject surfaced on, I think, the newsgroup rec.music. folk about a year
ago, quoting Carroll as the originator. Someone actually e-mailed him to
ask, and he replied that he recognizes Sylvia Wright as the originator of
the term whenever he discusses Mondegreens.
From: J M F <jmf@DAS.HARVARD.EDU>
Ye highlands & ye lowlands
O where have ye been?
They have slain the Earl of Murray
And laid him on the green
The bonny Earl of Murray
Who might have been a king
He was a braw gallant
And he played at the ball
And the bonnie Earl of Murray
Was a flower among them all
He was a braw gallant
And he played at the glove
And the bonnie Earl of Murray
He was my only love
Wherefore something Huntley
something something some(thing)
I bade you bring him with you
I forbade you him to slay
(another folkie instruction gone wrong)
Tune is a very close cousin to what Dylan used for "The times they are a
changing." Ewan MacColl does the version I know. It's undoubtably Child
Ballad # something (and a great song).
From: Bruce Kallick <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Safire on Mondegreens
William Safire's language column in yesterday's [1/23/94 -psl] NYT Magazine
deals at length with this subject which has been discussed several times on
bgrass-l. The name derives, we recall, from a mishearing of the lines
They hae slain the Earl O'Murray
And laid him on the green
And Lady Mondegreen.
The article contains several tasty examples, including the ever-green
"Gladly, the cross-eyed bear," and my favorite: Gregory Jaynes's childhood
memory of a pastor's saying, "Let us rise and sing Hymn No. 508, 'Lead On,
O Kinky Turtle.'"
From: "Peter K. Siegel" <psiegel@PIPELINE.COM>
Marty Cutler said
>I would do anything short of murder for a copy of the
>liner notes with the bad Japanese-English translation!
>Lots of laughs!
Must love overseas record companies, and particularly the overseas
affiliates of American majors who to this day respect and release great
BG/OT sides that their American counterpoints sadly neglect i.e. complete
Carter family reissue in Japan, etc.
The notes and song transacriptions, however, have at times been kind of
bizarre. IMHO, the grand prize goes to Victor Company of Japan for the
transcriptions on *Golden Blue Grass Highlight Vol. 3: The Best of Charlie
Thirteen wildly mangled song texts... The fondly remembered
denouement of *Good Morning To You*
Instead of me answering the parson "I do"
I popped up and said "Good Morning to You"
It's dead in me and answer the poison in a dew
My pop depends and I'm sayin' GOOD MORNING TO YOU
- Peter K. Siegel
This could be a great new thread! wacky misinterpretations of lyrics. Here's
one of my faves: In the notes to a Bill Monroe collection including "the
Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake, "The snake was warning me close by"
became The snake was more than Me plus five." In Wretched Refuse, we
performed the song with the second set of lyrics. I also have a dim memory
of the Crowe in Japan album, which writes about someone's solo, "followed
by a swiftly emerging Jerry," which became a euphemism I won't go into.
From: Kaiser D P <d9k@D9K.ESD.ORNL.GOV>
How long will this go on?
Regarding lyrics heard not quite right... Did anyone else hear anything
like: "There's a bathroom on the right" in the chorus of CCR's Bad Moon on
As a kid I sure was wondering why such a statement would make it into a
song, but Fogerty's lyrics to this day (to me) still sound more like the
incorrect phrase than "bad moon on the rise". (Must have something to do
with the quality -or lack thereof- of my equipment.)
Whistlin' in Knoxville
From: Dave Rousseau <Z264OV@TAMVM1.TAMU.EDU>
D. P. Kaiser, while whistlin' in Knoxville, asks how much longer will this
go on. Dunno. Sometimes we run threads into the ground (where they then
become *roots* music?).
Anyway some of you IBMA-ers caught Robin & Linda Williams' showcase in which
they told a cute story. They perform ... and have recorded ... the old
"Herding Cattle in a Cadillac Coupe DeVille". (I don't know the origin of
the song, but Stringbean did it and he's been gone for some years.) Robin
said things went well with the song until they got to Boston and met some
animal-righters who misunderstood the first word to be "hurting......". He
said the folks were quite adamant and would not listen to any of his
explanations until he finally told them to have a nice day ... or some such
WhiteBoard News for March 10, 1995
New York, New York:
Remember the Rolling Stones' defiant vow, "I'll never be your pizza burning"
or was it "beast of burden?"
Misconstrued lyrics from the '60s-'90s are the subject of a new book "'Scuse
Me While I Kiss This Guy and Other Misheard Lyrics" by Gavin Edwards.
Among other gems: Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Baking carrot biscuits" a.k.a.
"Takin' Care of Business" and the Beatles' "The girl with colitis goes by,"
better known as "The girl with kaleidoscope eyes" from "Lucy in the Sky With
In the May 5, 1989 issue of _Goldmine_ , the magazine published the winning
entries of their "Mis-Heard Lyrics" contest; these are rock and roll lyrics
as certain people HEARD them, as opposed to the songs' actual lyrics.
Some of the winning entries:
-"Paperback Writer": Jon Erdahl thought the title was "Pay
for that Chrysler"...
-"Material Girl" by Madonna: "we are living in a Cheerios world/
and I am a Cheerios girl"...
-"Angel of the Morning" by Merilee Rush: "just smash my Jeep
before you leave me"... and: "just brush my teeth before
you leave me"...
-"La Isla Bonita" by Madonna: "Last night I dreamt of a bagel"...
-"More Than A Woman" by the BeeGees: "Bald-Headed Woman"...
-"The Girl is Mine" by P. McC and M. Jackson: "that doggone
-"Every Breath You Take" by the Police: "I'm a pool hall ace"...
-"Papa Don't Preach" (Madonna again): "Papa John Creach"...
"Come on people now, pile on your brother
Everybody get together, try to mug one another right now."
I remember once in my bar hangout days when the drunks would HOWL like dogs
being butchered when Kenny Rogers would hit the jukebox. Apparently they
thought the lyrics were...
"You picked a fine time to leeeeeave me Lucielle, with FOUR HUNDRED children,
and a crop in the field."
:-) Needless to say, if they had four hundred children, their
heavy drinking was understandable.
Also, I was listening to a local radio station here in the Twin Cities many
years ago and heard a local call-in request a woman made... It seems she
wanted to hear the song from Delaney,Bonnie & Friends called "I've Got A
Never Ending Love For You." With the announcer playing her recorded request as
an intro and laughing out loud... she asked to hear
"I've Got An Indian Membrane Love For You"
I would have NO idea what she thought that song was about. WHATEVER she
thought though...she liked the idea enough to call in a request.
One that had me puzzled for the longest time was
"I'd like to hear some funk get Dixie leopard and mama come and take me by
This killed me primarily because it made no sense whatsoever... ;-)
[Now that you know the REAL mondegreen history, you'll probably be surprised
how often you come across helpful bits of near mis-information like the
I recall a story from Reader's Digest that gave the origin of "Mondegreen."
It seems a young man learned a poem by rote of a dashing Scots (I think)
lord who was killed by bad guys. The most poignant line of the poem was:
"...and they slew Lord Baltimore (or whatever),
And Lady Mondegreen."
The writer was touched by these two lovers, slain together, lying on
the ground brutally massacred, each (obviously) offering their life for the
other, and so on. It wasn't until years later, when he saw the poem written
out, that he found out that the poem said,
"...and they slew Lord Baltimore,
and laid him on the green."
I think the article was an excerpt from a book called "Pullet
Surprises," and included others like "Shirley, Good Mrs. Murphy will
follow me all of my days," "I lead the pigeons to the flag" and "O Atom
Bomb." (5 points to anyone who can identify all the above).
I always thought the lyrics to the song "My eyes adored you" were "My eyes
of Georgia." Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way.
I was at a friend's house and for some *stupid* reason this song was going
through my mind. While I was waiting for my friend to finish "logging out",
I started singing this song. My friend's mother, who happened to be in the
other room, heard me singing and she asked, "Jay, did you say 'My eyes of
Georgia'?" And I said, "Yes."
Boy. You should have heard her laugh. She had tears running down her eyes
(of Georgia :-), she was turning all kinds of colors, she was having trouble
breathing. I mean, this lady was Rolling! (I started laughing just because
she was laughing. I still didn't know what the hell was going on. I
thought it might have been my singing.)
After about ten minutes she calmed down and told me why she burst out
Sweet dreams are made of cheese
=> "Shirley, Good Mrs. Murphy will follow me all of my days,"
(Surely goodness and mercy will follow me...)
=> "I lead the pigeons to the flag" and
(I pledge allegience...?)
They don't even have to be popular songs. When my father was a kid,
before he could read, he used to stand in church and sing,
"There is a bomb in Gilead,
That makes a wounded hole..."
In case there's anyone out there who isn't a Mennonite, the real
situation involves a *balm* in Gilead that makes the wounded *whole*.
I really like this one, because the sounds are almost exactly alike,
while the meanings are almost exactly opposite. My dad was faintly
surprised that they would be singing about stuff like that in church, but,
to paraphrase a TV commercial, "Grown-ups have a lot of goofy names for
In first grade Catechism class, I was amazed that the answer
to the question:
"Who is God?"
"God is the String Bean [Supreme Being] that made all things and
holds them in existence."
[This last item was borrowed from the Fun_People Archives, specifically
<http://www.langston.com/Fun_People/1996/1996BDC.html> just for fun and
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (David C Lawrence)
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (Rich Williamson)
Those drag pipes sure can take their toll.....
biker interpretations of "classic" rock & roll songs:
0. "'scuse me while I kiss this guy" (Jimi Hendrix)
1. "I like smokin' ice cream" (Steppenwolf)
2. "ripped up her douche in the middle of the night" (Manfred Mann)
3. "the ants are my friends, they're blowin' in the wind" (Bob Dylan)
4. "Well they sent you a tie clasp" (Elvis Presley)
5. "Baking carrot biscuits" (Bachman-Turner Overdrive)
6. "And there's a wino down the road, I should have stolen Oreos" (Led Zep)
7. "Take a load of fanny, take a load for me" (The Band)
8. "The girl with colitis goes by" (The Beatles)
9. "There's a bathroom on the right" (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
0. "'scuse me while I kiss the sky" (Purple Haze)
1. "I like smoke and lightning" (Born to Be Wild)
2. "revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night"
(Blinded by the Light)
3. "the answer my friend is blowin' in the wind" (Blowin' in the Wind)
4. "Well they said you were high-class" (Hound Dog)
5. "Takin' care of business" (Takin' Care of Business)
6. "And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls"
(Stairway to Heaven)
7. "Take a load off Annie, take a load for free" (The Weight)
8. "The girl with kaleidoscope eyes" (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds)
9. "There's a bad moon on the rise" (Bad Moon Rising)
Finally, here's the on-line card catalogue entry for the book that started it all...
AUTHOR Wright, Sylvia, 1917-
TITLE Get away from me with those Christmas gifts, and other
reactions. Illus. by Sheila Greenwald.
EDITION [1st ed.]
PUBLISHER New York, McGraw-Hill 
DESCRIPTN 247 p. 21 cm.
© 1998 Peter Langston