Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mondegreens and Their Cousins

For those who've never heard this, a misheard lyric or phrase is sometimes called a "mondegreen." Here are a couple of real life examples: when

'Scuse me while I kiss the sky

is heard as
'Scuse me while I kiss this guy

then the latter is a mondegreen. And when

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

is heard as

Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life

then the latter is a mondegreen.

The charming story behind the label "mondegreen" is that as a girl, Sylvia Wright (an American author) misheard the lyrics to a 17th century ballad, The Bonnie Earl O' Murray. The first stanza ends with

They hae slain the Earl O' Murray
And laid him on the green.

But the young Sylvia heard it as

They hae slain the Earl Amurray
And Lady Mondegreen.

In general, to qualify as a mondegreen the replacement must be as good as or better in some sense than the original.

(I am absolutely wild about Gladly the Cross I'd Bear/Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear.)

OK, that's a long introduction for an otherwise short post regarding misheard (and obviously misunderstood) quotations I've encountered. They are not quite mondegreens.

With an educational background that ended with a high school diploma, a friend and mentor (R.I.P.) had attained the executive vice-presidency of a large corporation and that corporation paid the tuition and expenses he incurred in subsequently acquiring a Bachelor of Arts degree through one accelerated program or another.

He returned from this program with his degree and a head full of information new to him, including a couple of mangled quotes:

  • O tempores amores for O tempora! O mores! (This one went out in a memo sent to EVP's at other companies.)

  • Separate the wheat from the shaft for Separate the wheat from the chaff (confined, as far as I know, to meetings in his office.)
Only tangentially related (because not misheard), when my father pointed out a trait I had inherited from him (we both on occasion talked to other people as if they were idiots), I quoted Deuteronomy: "The sins of the father are visited unto the son."

The next time we found ourselves in a similar situation, he informed me that "The sins of the father are twice the hypotenuse."

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