Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Mondegreen discourse

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Mondegreen discourse

Monday, May 10, 2010

Now that the new Supreme Court justice nominee has been announced, we can brace for a summer of non-love. Sometimes our public figures seem to misunderstand each other so consistently it’s hard to believe they’re speaking the same language.

Is it possible they’re simply not hearing correctly? Maybe it’s not anger and bloviation at all, just...mondegreens.

Back in 1954, magazine writer Sylvia Wright invented the mondegreen in an article in which she described how, as a child, she had heard these lines from a 17th century ballad:
“They have slain the Earl Amurry
And Lady Mondegreen.”

Or at least that’s how she heard it. The line is actually, “and laid him on the green.” Wright made the point in her essay that there should be a word for what we mis-hear, and the word she proposed was “mondegreen.”

You’ve heard them, too. That Creedence Clearwater Revival song that, instead of "There's a bad moon on the rise," seems to say, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” And the Paul Young song with the immortal line, “Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you.” And the Canadian national anthem, “Oh, Canada, we stand on cars and freeze.”

It’s not immediately clear what explains away the current misunderstandings, but I’m thinking there may just be some mondegreens in there. We can pray that things may clear up: Surely good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life....


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Blogger Mim said...

Thanks for this post, Ellen. I believe that Elena Kagan will be confirmed despite what the "mondegreens" say. Am I being too optimistic?

May 10, 2010 at 3:29 PM  

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