Link via The Passive Voice Blog:
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?