Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Not sure I believe “mondegreen” is a real word

Link via The Passive Voice Blog:

What is a mondegreen?

Have you ever heard someone sing the wrong lyrics to a song? Maybe a child gave the nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” a new meaning by replacing the line “life is but a dream” with “life’s a butter dream.” …

A word or a phrase resulting from mishearing another word or phrase (especially in a song or poem) is a common phenomenon known as a mondegreen. A mondegreen typically sounds like the original phrase, (i.e., they’re homophonous) but the meaning is often entirely changed—with presumably amusing results.

I believe in the phenomenon, of course, but I’m pretty sure I have never heard the term “mondegreen” before in my life.

The article says:

Sylvia Wright, an American author, coined it after a phrase she recalled mishearing as a young girl. Wright reportedly believed the first stanza to “The Bonnie Earl O’Moray,” a 17th century ballad, featured two unfortunate aristocrats:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where have ye been?
They have slain the Earl O’Moray
And Lady Mondegreen.

The correct phrasing of the fourth line is, “And laid him on the green.”

I find all this believable. What I’m not sure I believe is that “mondegreen” is a term that is used by more than half a dozen people who happen to have encountered this coinage by Sylvia Wright.

So! Tell me: did you ever hear the word before? If someone had referred to something as a “mondegreen” yesterday in your hearing, would you have known what they meant?

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6 Comments Not sure I believe “mondegreen” is a real word

  1. Elaine T

    Heard the word, no. Run across it in reading – yes, quite a few times, if not frequently. Maybe once a year? I’ve known the term for many years. I think I picked it up in my ‘ballad’ stage.

  2. Hanneke

    I too had read the word, and the explanation about Lady Mondegreen, years ago; and have encountered it since in (written) discussions about misheard song lyrics.
    It’s not a word I would have used spontaneously myself, but I did recognise it immediately.

  3. Rachel

    Interesting, Hanneke! Given your and Elaine’s comments, I guess I will have to believe it’s a real word after all.

  4. Rachel

    I’m going to assume that now that I’ve been sensitized to it, the word will suddenly seem to turn up everywhere.

  5. charlotte taylor

    I learned it from a listserve group I’m in that talks about 20th century UK girls books, and the word, and concept, have come up quite a lot in the past 20 years…perhaps it’s more common in the UK, where “Gladly the cross-eyed bear” is a creature well-known to all.

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