An Irishwoman's Diary
LONG before there was an app for everything there was a word for everything. And your word for today is mondegreen. It’s a misheard lyric, slogan or prayer which causes great mirth/ embarrassment when shared with others.
I remember listening to Graceland on the radio for the first time and being mildly shocked on hearing Paul Simon singing “the way she brushed her hair and farted”. It wasn’t until, ahem, last year, that I discovered he was singing “the way she brushed her hair from her forehead”. I have to admit I was very surprised, and even slightly disappointed, at this turn of events. The other version still sounds better.
But of course we all know the Amy Winehouse song You Know I’m No Good contains the lyrics “. . . upstairs in bed with my eggs boiled”. I believe she was making some twisted reference to her fertility. No, you say? She was actually “upstairs in bed with my ex-boy”? I don’t believe it.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who spent two decades believing Leonard Cohen was telling Janis Joplin in Chelsea Hotel that she preferred “pants on men but for me you would make an exception”. The scales fell from my eyes when I heard him singing the song in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and realised she preferred “handsome men”. Unfortunately the song has now lost all meaning for me. If there are no pants involved, I don’t want to hear about it.
And when Alanis Morissette was spitting venom on You Oughta Know, how many people thought she was complaining about a dodgy Christmas present? “It’s not fair to deny me of the cross-eyed bear that you gave to me,” she fumed. Actually she didn’t. Reader, I can now reveal there was no bear, cross-eyed or otherwise. She was actually singing: “It’s not fair to deny me of the cross I bear that you gave to me.” Many people think Creedence Clearwater Revival were kindly informing us that there was a bathroom on the right when in fact they were warning of a bad moon on the rise. The name of the song kind of gives that one away.
Hands up anyone who thought Chaka Khan was encouraging people to climb every woman? She had nothing of sort in mind and was merely declaring “I’m every woman”.
The mondegreen was invented by American writer Sylvia Wright who misheard the words of a poem The Bonny Earl O’Moray as a child. She heard “they hae slain the Earl O’ Moray, and Lady Mondegreen” and felt very sorry for this dead noble woman until she discovered that she never existed and the poem actually read “they hae slain the Earl O’Moray, and laid him on the green”. To celebrate her discovery, she wrote an essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen” in Harper’s magazine in 1954 and the concept was born.