Mis-heard lyrics: The magic of mondegreens

‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy: The Magic of Mondegreens…


Ever sing a song aloud, certain you’re belting out the right lyrics, only to find out that you are signing the wrong words altogether?  You know what I’m talking about…

  • Imitating Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” you belt out…”‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” (instead of the correct, “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky“)
  • At the end of each verse of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song, “Bad Moon Rising,” You find yourself singing, “There’s a bathroom on the right” (instead of the correct, “There’s a bad moon on the rise“)
  • Trying to sing  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version of “Blinded By The Light,” you don’t quite sing the intended lyrics, “Revved up like a deuce,” but instead you sing…er…well, you get the point by now

Did you know there’s a word for this comical mis-hearing of intended words? Yes, it’s mondegreen.

Mondegreen (MAHN-duh-green): A mishearing of song lyrics or popular phrases.

My first mondegreen

It was 1981, and my friend Tara Levy and I were listening to the radio at her house, when our favorite Philadelphia radio station announced the release of a new Rolling Stones song. We excitedly listened in and heard Mick Jagger belt out,

Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia an ever star.” 

Tara and I looked at each other, puzzled. What we didn’t realize was that he was actually signing “If you start me up. If you start me up I’ll never stop.”   Weeks later, when Tara and I learned the real words to the song, we laughed hard at our misinterpretation, and I realized a potential reason why we’d missed the real words. My father had just returned from Sarajevo (a city in the then-named country of Yugoslavia).  We had unknowingly primed ourselves to hear the word Yugoslavia in the song!

Origin of mondegreens

When author Siliva Wright was a child, she heard an old Scottish ballad called “The Bonnie Earl of Murray,” which includes the line,

“They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray / And laid him on the green.”

Alas, Wright misunderstood that line as

“They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray/And Lady Mondegreen.”

As a result, she spent years pitying poor Lady Mondegreen before she finally saw the lyrics in print. Writing about this in a 1954 Harper’s magazine article, Wright coined the term mondegreen to denote such words misheard.

Your turn

Now, see if you know the correct words for these two mondegreens:

  • ‘The girl with colitis goes by’ from the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
  • “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” from a famous Elton John’ song

Do you have a mondegreen story?  Please share it! 

Just think, You kid help billed whirled peas…

2 thoughts on “Mis-heard lyrics: The magic of mondegreens

  1. I went an entire year, 1980/81 singing “coolin’, coolin’ out”. Had it not been for a letter from my beau complimenting me on the weight that I had gained (yes, I said gained), I might still be singing it the same way. The song, “More Bounce to the Ounce” by the Zapp Band, was a one hit wonder.


  2. How about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Free Falling”? I swear for a year we’d belt out “free ballin'” during the chorus, thinking it was a song about the new freedom afforded to men during the early 1990’s boxers craze. Lol, good times.


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