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A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song, due to near homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.[1][2]

American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in her essay "The Death of Lady Mondegreen," published in Harper's Magazine in November 1954.[3]

"Mondegreen" was included in the 2000 edition of the Random House Webster's College Dictionary. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary added the word in 2008.[4][5]

Mondegreens occur in languages other than English. In Russia Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1875 ironically cited a line from Fyodor Glinka's song "Troika" (1825) колокольчик, дар Валдая (‘the bell, gift of Valday’) claiming that it is ever comprehended as колокольчик, дарвалдая (‘the bell darvaldaying’ - the onomatopoeia verb for ringing)[6]. Ghil'ad Zuckermann cites the Israeli example mukhrakhím liyót saméakh (‘we must be happy’) instead of (the high-register) úru akhím belév saméakh (‘wake up, brothers, with a happy heart’), from the well-known song Háva Nagíla (Let’s be Happy) ."[7] A collection of items submitted by Hindi speakers (and relating mainly to songs in Bollywood movies) is available online.[8]

A closely related category is the soramimi, which are songs that produce different meanings from those originally intended when interpreted in another language.[9]



In the essay, Wright described how, as a young girl, she misheard the final line of the first stanza from the 17th-century ballad "The Bonny Earl O'Moray". She wrote:

When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual fourth line is "And laid him on the green". Wright explained the need for a new term: "The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original."

Other examples Wright suggested are:

  • Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life ("Surely goodness and mercy…" from Psalm 23)
  • The wild, strange battle cry "Haffely, Gaffely, Gaffely, Gonward." ("Half a league, half a league,/ Half a league onward," from "The Charge of the Light Brigade")


Examples in song lyrics

  • The top three mondegreens submitted regularly to mondegreen expert Jon Carroll are:[1]
  1. "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear[3] (from the line in the hymn "Keep Thou My Way" by Fanny Crosby, "Kept by Thy tender care, gladly the cross I'll bear")[10] Carroll and many others quote it as "Gladly the cross I'd bear".
  2. There's a bathroom on the right (the line at the end of each verse of "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival: "There's a bad moon on the rise")
  3. 'Scuse me while I kiss this guy (from a lyric in the song "Purple Haze", by Jimi Hendrix: "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky").
Both Creedence's John Fogerty and Hendrix eventually capitalized on these mishearings and deliberately sang the "mondegreen" versions of their songs in concert.[11][12][13]
  • The song "Sea Lion Woman", was recorded in 1939 by Christine and Katherine Shipp, but was performed by Nina Simone under the title "See Line Woman" and later by Feist as "Sealion". According to the liner notes from the compilation "A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings," the actual title of this playground song might also be "See [the] Lyin' Woman" or "C-Line Woman."[14]
  • The title of the song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", recorded in 1968 by Iron Butterfly arose because the original lyric "In The Garden of Eden" was misheard either by a member of the band or their entourage. This travelled full circle in an episode of The Simpsons when Bart replaces his church's scheduled hymn with a reworked version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" titled "In the Garden of Eden" and supposedly written by "I. Ron Butterfly".
  • The Joni Mitchell cover of the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross song "Twisted" includes a mondegreen: the original lyric They all laughed at A. Graham Bell was misheard and subsequently recorded by Mitchell as They all laugh at angry young men.[15]
  • The song "The Israelites" by Desmond Dekker was used in a television commercial for Maxell cassette tapes in 1990 in the UK which attempted to make a mondegreen of most of the song to imply you would not have these issues if you listened to the song on Maxell tapes. The title of the song can be misheard as "my ears are alight".
  • When Bob Dylan offered cannabis to The Beatles, he was surprised to find they had not tried it before; he had misheard the lyric "I can't hide" in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as "I get high".[16]
  • The song "Showdown", by Electric Light Orchestra features the line: "It's so real, the suffering", which has long been heard by some as "It's a real submarine". One report says that Del Shannon, who met Jeff Lynne in 1974, told him that he thought it was a really cool lyric to sing about a submarine. Another report says that one night on tour when Jeff was ill, Michael De Albuquerque sang the lead vocals in Jeff's place. Michael, having always misheard the lyric, sang it wrong. Whatever the origins of the misheard lyric, Jeff started singing it as "It's a real submarine" on tour soon after, where it can be most noticeably heard on the Zoom Tour Live performance. [17]

Examples in literature

  • In The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, reference is made to Laura Wingfield's bout with pleurosis during high school. At the time, Laura entertained timid but romantic feelings for Jim, who upon asking about her absence, mistakenly hears her say "blue roses" and carelessly adopts the moniker for her.
  • In The World According to Garp by John Irving, Garp's young child is warned to beware of the undertow while bathing in the sea. Garp realizes later that the child had understood "Under Toad" and pictured a menacing creature under the sea surface.
  • In Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, Ramona is taught to sing the U.S. national anthem, and mishears the opening line ("O! say can you see by the dawn's early light") as "Oh say, can you see, by the dawnzer lee light". This leads her to believe that a dawnzer is some form of a lamp, and when Beezus (her sister) is having trouble seeing to read, Ramona suggests that she turn on the dawnzer, to much confusion.
  • One of Ed McBain's novels is entitled Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear.
  • In children's literature, a book entitled A Little Pigeon Toad, written and illustrated by the actor Fred Gwynne, offers amusing examples of how children can misinterpret words and phrases.
  • In "The Perishers", by Maurice Dodd, there is a stuffed teddy bear called "Gladly", owned by Baby Grumpling. The bear is cross-eyed.

Examples in television

  • "Mondegreens" is the name of a segment on the Australian music quiz show Spicks and Specks (ABC TV).[18]
  • In Rugrats, several episodes involved the child characters being susceptible to mondegreens when hearing the adult characters talk, and were often the basis for the quests the child characters went on.
  • Some blogs and web sites refer to "Alexa Hente" as a person somehow associated with a TV coffee commercial.[19] The allusion is a mis-hearing of "El Exigente," a choosy character known as "the demanding one" in Savarin coffee commercials of the 1960s-'70s. The character, a commercial mascot similar to Juan Valdez, was played by Carlos Montalbán, brother of actor Ricardo Montalbán.[20]
  • The Two Ronnies in the "Four Candles" comedy sketch ("fork handles").

Reverse mondegreen

There are compositions which appear nonsensical, but which can be interpreted homophonically as a rational text. A prominent example is Mairzy Doats, a 1943 novelty song by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston, which works the other way around.[21] The lyrics are a mondegreen and it's up to the listener to figure out what they mean.

The refrain of the song repeats nonsensical sounding lines:

Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe

The clue to the meaning is contained in the bridge:

If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
Sing "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy."

The listener can figure out that the last line of the refrain is "A kid'll eat ivy, too; wouldn't you?", but this line is sung only as a mondegreen.

In a more recent example, the video Hatten är din reinterprets an Arabic lyric into nonsense Swedish lyrics.

Deliberate mondegreen

Luis van Rooten produced a volume of pseudo-French poetry, Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames, complete with critical, historical and interpretive apparatus, which are actually elaborate, extended mondegreens for English-language nursery rhymes. This can also be considered soramimi, which produces different meanings when interpreted in another language. Some performers and writers have used deliberate mondegreens to create double entendres, including:

See also


  1. ^ a b Jon Carroll. "Mondegreens Ripped My Flesh". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  2. ^ The Word Detective: "Green grow the lyrics" Retrieved on 2008-07-17
  3. ^ a b Sylvia Wright (1954). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "The Death of Lady Mondegreen"]. Harper's Magazine 209 (1254): 48–51.  Drawings by Bernarda Bryson. Reprinted in: Sylvia Wright (1957). Get Away From Me With Those Christmas Gifts. McGraw Hill.  Contains the essays "The Death of Lady Mondegreen" and "The Quest of Lady Mondegreen."
  4. ^ Dictionary adds new batch of words. July 7, 2008.
  5. ^ NBC News: Merriam-Webster adds words that have taken root among Americans
  6. ^ Достоевский Ф. М. Полное собрание сочинений: В 30 тт. Л., 1980. Т. 21. С. 264.
  7. ^ Ghil'ad Zuckermann ‘‘Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew’’, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, (Palgrave Studies in Language History and Language Change, Series editor: Charles Jones). ISBN 1-4039-1723-X. 2003m p, 248
  8. ^ Man-bol
  9. ^ "But whereas ordinary Mondegreen occurs within a single language, Soramimi awaa is unique in that it occurs cross-linguistically in hearing foreign songs." - Otake, Takashi (2007). "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". pp. 777–780. 
  10. ^ Frances Crosby. ""Keep Thou My Way"". The Cyber Hymnal. Retrieved 2006-09-06. 
  11. ^ "Did Jimi Hendrix really say, "'Scuse me, while I kiss this guy?"". Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  12. ^ "The Guardian", Letters April 26, 2007
  13. ^ CCR/John Fogerty FAQ. This can be heard on his 1998 live album Premonition.
  14. ^ "A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings". Retrieved May 14, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Song Lyrics: Twisted". Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  16. ^ Miles, Barry; Keith Badman (2001). The Beatles Diary: The Beatles years. Omnibus Press. p. 165. ISBN 0711983089. 
  17. ^ "Showdown - An in-depth song analysis". 
  18. ^ "Spicks and Specks, Episode 15". 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Randall, Dale B. J. (1995). "American "Mairzy" Dottiness, Sir John Fastolf's Secretary, and the "Law French" of a Caroline Cavalier". American Speech (Duke University Press) 70 (4): 361–370. doi:10.2307/455617. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  22. ^ Jesse Sheidlower (March 19, 2009). "If You Seek Amy's Ancestors". Slate. 
  23. ^

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

WOTD - 30 June 2006    



Wikipedia has an article on:



Coined by Sylvia Wright in Harper’s Magazine (The Death of Lady Mondegreen, Nov 1954) from a mishearing of the stanza in the Scottish ballad The Bonny Earl of Murray

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
They hae slay the Earl of Murray,
And laid him on the green. (Misheard as “And Lady Mondegreen”)





mondegreen (plural mondegreens)

  1. A form of error arising from mishearing a spoken or sung phrase
    • “The ants are my friends, blowin’ in the wind.” (“The answer, my friend, is...”) from Bob Dylan'sBlowin' In the Wind.”
    • “There's a bathroom on the right” (“There's a bad moon on the rise”) from Creedence Clearwater Revival'sBad Moon Rising.”
    • “'Scuse me while I kiss this guy” (“'Scuse me while I kiss the sky”) from Jimi Hendrix'sPurple Haze.”
    • God’s first name:
      1. “Andy walks with me…” (“And He walks with me…”) from the hymn “In The Garden”
      2. “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Harold be Thy name…” (“…hallowed be thy name…”) from the Lord’s Prayer
  2. (rare) A misunderstanding of a written or spoken phrase as a result of multiple definitions.

See also

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