Printable Version
Pronunciation: mahn-dê-green Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: The reanalysis of a phrase so that it means something other than what was intended or sounds different from what was intended. A slip of the ear, a mishearing that is repeated.

Notes: My favorite mondegreen reportedly came from a child who, returning home from Sunday school, announced that she had learned a song about some cross-eyed bear named Gladly. It turns out that she had learned the hymn "Keep Thou My Way" by Fanny Crosby, which contains the line "(Kept by Thy tender care) Gladly the cross I'd bear". I still hear the jingle, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream," with the reanalysis of I scream into ice cream. Another popular one mentioned often on the Web is the switch of "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" to "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" in the Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze.

In Play: Many people think that mondegreens are limited to songs, but kids and adults make mondegreens all the time in ordinary speech. Some mondegreens even result in new words. Orange arose by this process from the original phrase 'a narange', based on Arabic narange. Apron was originally a napron, the mother of napkin "small apron". Auger is the result of a reanalysis of the phrase of a nauger as an auger.

Word History: The word itself must be credited to US writer Sylvia Wright, who coined it for her essay "The Death of Lady Mondegreen", published in Harper's Magazine November 1954. "When I was a child," Sylvia wrote, "[o]ne of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
     Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
     Oh, where hae ye been?
     They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
     And Lady Mondegreen"
Sylvia understood why the poor Earl of Murray was slain, but for years she could not understand why they had also slain Lady Mondegreen. When Sylvia finally analyzed the phrase properly, as "And laid him on the green", she dubbed the result of her reanalysis a mondegreen. It stuck.

Dr. Goodword,

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