Have you ever sung a song and gotten the lyrics completely wrong? Many people have, and often with amusing results. The error is called a mondegreen.
A mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning. It is created when a person listens to a poem or song. The listener does not clearly hear a lyric and substitutes words that sound similar. It’s our brain’s way of trying to make sense of what we hear.
A few popular examples are:
- “There’s a bathroom on the right” for “There’s a bad moon on the rise” in Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
- “I led the pigeons to the flag” for “I pledge allegiance to the flag.”
- “We are living in a Cheerio world, and I am a Cheerio girl” for “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl” Material Girl by Madonna.
My favorite mondegreens are those from children. I once shared how one of my boys sang in a Christmas children’s choir when he was young. His rendition of the chorus of Gloria in Excelsis Deo, came out Gloria hear me shout hurray-o.
Although a mondegreen is said to be our brain’s way of trying to make sense of what we are hearing, sometimes our misinterpretation makes no sense at all. On a recent outing, a popular and moving song came on the radio. When reaching the chorus, I sang along a heartfelt “Hallelujah, hallelujah.”
My daughter turned to me with a confused look. After listening a moment, her face changed to an ah-ha expression and she exclaimed, “Now it makes sense. I thought she was singing papa New York, and I couldn’t figure out what it meant.”
After telling me what she heard, I could hear it too. If you’ve read this long, you have to take a moment to listen to the chorus, in Anne Wilson’s My Jesus, to see if you can hear it too.
Music is usually playing in our home, and we often sing along. We don’t always get the lyrics correct, and that’s okay. A good mondegreen should be enjoyed and shared.
Papa New York, Papa New York, amen, amen, amen
Have you or your family created any good mondegreens? Please leave a comment and share your favorites.