Article Date: 9/1/2005

Lessons learned
Mondegreens
The term may be unfamiliar, but they're something we all know . . .
JACK RUNNINGER, O.D.

When I peruse the pages of each Optometric Management issue, I become envious of how much more scholarly and knowledgeable are all the other authors than am I. In a desperate attempt to catch up with their erudition, I shall herein discuss a term I'll bet is unfamiliar to most of them. The term to which I refer is "Mondegreens," by definition "a mishearing of a popular phrase or song lyric."


ILLUSTRATION BY AMY WUMMER

Most frequent

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll collects Mondegreens. According to him, three of the most often submitted entries are:

1. "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear," (known in the real world as that old hymn, "Gladly The Cross I'd Bear.")

2. From the Jimi Hendrix song "Purple Haze," the line "Excuse me while I kiss the sky," is often heard as "Excuse me while I kiss this guy." Mr. Hendrix was himself aware that he had been Mondegreened, and would occasionally, in performance, actually kiss a guy after saying that line.

3. Best illustrated by the story of the child in Sunday School who drew a picture of a chubby child. When asked the name of the child in the picture, he replied, "Round John Virgin," a figure also found in "Silent Night."

Best be careful

Mondegreens are another example of how easy it is to miscommunicate if you're not careful. They demonstrate the necessity of stating things clearly in speaking with staff and patients, particularly children.

The word "Mondegreen" was coined by writer Sylvia Wright. As a child she had heard the Scottish ballad, "The Bonny Earl of Murray," and had believed that one stanza went like this:

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands

Oh where hae you been?

They hae slay the Earl of Murray,

And Lady Mondegreen

Poor Lady Mondegreen, thought Sylvia Wright. A tragic heroine dying with her liege; how poetic. Some years later she discovered that the last two lines of the stanza instead were:

They hae slay the Earl of Murray,

And laid him on the green.

Sylvia was so distraught by the sudden disappearance of her heroine that she memorialized her with a neologism.

The majority of Mondegreens come from song lyrics. You may remember that touching moment in "I'm In The Mood For Love," when the singer reveals his favorite nickname for his beloved?

I'm in the mood for love,

Simply because you're near me,

Funny Butt, when you're near me . . .

Books too

Mondegreens even extend to book titles. A Monk Swimming is the title of a book by Malachy McCourt. When he was a lad growing up in Ireland in the Catholic Church, when reciting "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with Thee. Blessed are Thou amongst women," McCourt always heard, "amongst women" as instead, "a monk swimming."

Another of his books is titled Harold Be Thy Name, the phrase from the Lord's Prayer which had early established for him God's first name.

JACK RUNNINGER, OUR CONSULTING EDITOR, LIVES IN ROME, GA. HE'S ALSO A PAST EDITOR OF OM. CONTACT HIM AT RUNNINGERJ@AOL.COM

 



Optometric Management, Issue: September 2005