Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lady Mondegreen

As a child, essayist Sylvia Wright enjoyed the Scottish folksong about the Ear of Murray and his beloved Lady Mondegreen, who both suffered an early, violent death. The verse Wright heard was:

“Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands,
Oh! Where ha'e ye been:
They ha'e slain the Earl of Murray,
And the Lady Mondegreen.”

Years later, Wright discovered to her chagrin that there was no Lady Mondegreen. Instead, after the Earl of Murray was slain by his enemies, "they laid him on the green." Since Wright’s essay, published in 1954 (either by Harper’s or Atlantic Monthly—-secondary sources differ), the technical term for unintentionally misheard lyrics that last in the listener’s mind for years is called a "mondegreen." While the misheard lyrics may sound silly, often they actually make sense. I am sure a lot of you have your own mondegreens (and yes, I want to read all about them in the comments section). Here is one of mine:

The song “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats starts out with these lyrics:

Ah we can dance if we want to,
we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don’t dance
and if they don’t dance
Well they’re are no friends of mine.


At first, those lyrics sound rather exclusionary. Then later on in the song, I heard these lyrics:

“We can dance, we can dance, everything’s under control,
We can dance, we can dance, doing it from pole to pole.”


The “pole to pole” indicated to me that everyone was dancing, and yes, despite all of the chaos in the world, everything was under control because we were all dancing as a global community. I was disappointed to find out that in fact, “everything’s out of control” and the people who were dancing were only dancing “wall to wall" in what must have been a claustrophic setting.

I like my own misheard version better. As Gavin Edwards writes in his article, Mondegreens: A Short Guide,

"Pop songs aren't Ph.D. dissertations, or instruction manuals: they're supposed to be heard a million different ways, in a million different contexts. Customization is the only rational response to omnipresence."

(... Or would that be "Omni presents?")

5 comments:

Nonny said...

That is to funny. I'll have to think about it. I can say that I still have no idea what Kurt Cobain is saying in "Smells Like Teen Spirit" but I've never looked up the actual lyrics because I find it fun to try and figure it out whenever I hear the song.

Brad the Gorilla said...

Nonny, I thought everyone knew Cobain was singing,

And the laptop it sustains us:
Mashed bananas, and potatoes!

Lone Star Ma said...

I have always wondered about that Blinded by the Light song....wrapped up like a...naaa...

galetea said...

lone star ma- I've wondered about that one too. I always thought I've heard "wrapped up like a papoose" but only discovered recently that it's "revved up like a deuce/another runner in the night." which doesn't make a whole lot more sense, in my opinion.

one of my favorite mondegreens is, "The Dukes of Hazzard in the classroom" from Floyd's "Brick in the Wall" which is actually "Dark sarcasm in the classroom."

Lady K said...

Thanks for helping me finally get the Electric Avenue song out of my head, although I consider the Safety Dance ten times worse. I can't wait to get to work to hear the muzak...