Mondegreen

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
Yotsuba sings about the true nature of life.
"I mean, what the crap was he even saying there? 'Everybody, now bleed a beetle'? No! Ewww. 'Everybody, law deed will be dull'? Uhhhh, no kidding. 'Everybody, something the feed mill'?"
—'Strong Bad commenting on Homestar Runners site intro

Mondegreens are the phenomenon of mishearing lines, normally song lyrics, but poetry is also a frequent victim. Sometimes it's lack of correct enunciation, sometimes it's the speed or pitch that a lyric is delivered at, but often, a song lyric or recited poem will become famous not for what it says, but for what it sounds like it says to the uncareful ear.

Sometimes caused by bad diction, or bizarre lyrics.

For a more in-depth look at the history of mondegreens and how they're used in various media, please see the Analysis Page.

See also Lady Mondegreen, which is about something similar happening with character names in other works. Contrast Malaproper which is a character who mixes up words on a regular basis, and Beam Me Up, Scotty which is for when the misheard line becomes more famous than the original. A Gag Sub for a music video will probably be filled with mondegreens.

Note: Examples below should be In-Universe, or ones referenced in other works ONLY.

Examples of Mondegreen include:


Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • A recent ad for Cingular used this: two men are walking down the street and mangling the chorus of "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash. One sings it as "lock the cashbox", only to be briefly stunned when his friend sings it as "stop the catbox". He then agrees with that interpretation.
  • A commercial for T-Mobile plays with this trope: A guy sings along with Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me", and mondegreens it into "Pour some shook-up ramen." His girlfriend is, of course, incredulous, and turns to T-Mobile for help for some reason.
  • One ad for Comcast's "On Demand" service, has a man mangling the lyrics to "Born to be Wild" in the shower—and having Mr. T burst through his wall and reprimand him. No, seriously.
  • This Volkswagen Passat commercial has several people mishearing a line from "Rocket Man".
  • Maxell tapes did a series of ads focusing on this. This advert mishears Desmond Dekkerby's Israelites. And this one mishears The Skid's "Into The Valley".


Card Games[edit | hide]


Comedy[edit | hide]

  • "You fill out my census" ("You fill up my senses" from "Annie's Song" by John Denver). This common misheard version was naturally seized on by the Capitol Steps for one of their political song parodies.
  • John Denver's lyrics were skewered by Monty Python's Eric Idle on "John Denver being strangled" ("You came on my pillow...HYUUUNG!) -- and yes, Denver sued.
  • There's also a comedian who bemoans his parents' inability to remember song lyrics, the trump being that his father sings one of Elton John's song as "Don't let your son go down on me".
  • In his stage act, comedian Michael Winslow used to do a version of "Purple Haze", changing the lyric to "'Scuse me while I kiss this fly", followed by screeches of "Help me! Help me!"
  • Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man" is easily misheard as Secret Asian man, and has been parodied as such at least twice, by the Capitol Steps as well as Da Vinci's Notebook.
  • The Vacant Lot comedy troupe has a skit dedicated to mondegreens in Springsteen's Blinded By The Light: "ripped up douches"; "loofah sponges" and the "foreman of the night;" and one that's completely incomprehensible.
  • Springsteen's Blinded By The Light was made fun of by comedian Louis CK who once commented

You know that song 'Blinded by the Light'? Whenever it said 'revved up like a deuce' I always thought it said 'your mother's cunt smells like oranges'. Strange how that works...

  • Penn Jillette even joked about Paul McCartney's poor grammar in "Live and Let Die" in front of a UK audience in Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
  • In Ellen DeGeneres's stand-up days, she discussed this.

"Does he have it?" Is that what they're singing? "Does he have it?" Then you think to yourself "Why have I been singing 'Monkey hatchet?'" How many people have heard me sing "Monkey hatchet?" Then there are some songs that you don't even bother learning the words, because you assume that no one knows the words. That Aretha Franklin song "Respect," that's been around a long time, and we always get to that part where "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, (Beat) coch-C-T HO!"


Comic Strip[edit | hide]

  • "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly" was once mondegreened in Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo as "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie".
  • Peanuts once subverted this trope: a story arc has Sally preparing for a Christmas pageant in which "I come out and say, 'Hark!', then Harold Angel starts to sing." Everyone assumes that she's simply confused by the name of the song...until a kid named Harold Angel actually shows up.
    • Sally was known for these kinds of blunders. In another Christmas strip, she recites: "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care/In hopes that Jack Nicklaus soon would be there."
  • The Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" was mondegreen'd as "Chimpanzee for the Devil" in CRFH (admittedly, by a character who's a Cloudcuckoolander)
  • A Bloom County strip had Opus the penguin mangling The Star-Spangled Banner when he finds himself unable to remember the lyrics ("Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light / what so proudly we snailed, at, um, the starlight's last cleaning...").
  • In the comic strip Wild Life, Carson the Muskrat thinks the lyrics to his favorite U2 song are "I still haven't found Walter's cookie jar" (I still haven't found what I'm looking for)


Film[edit | hide]

  • In Animal Crackers, Groucho asks Chico to play a song about Montreal: "I'm a dreamer, Montreal." This is a mangled reference to the De Sylva, Brown & Henderson song "Aren't We All?"
  • In The Flight of Dragons, the closed captioning for the official VHS releases frequently substitute the word "horn" for the actual word "hoard".
  • In the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight, Samuel L. Jackson misquotes England Dan and John Ford Coley's "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" when he sings, "I'm not talking 'bout the linen," and Geena Davis corrects him that the song is actually saying, "I'm not talking about moving in." Then again, the line was famous for being incomprehensible, especially on 70s-vintage AM rock radio when it was originally a hit. (To the point that the duo would deliberately mumble it in liver performances to "preserve the mystery".)
  • Role Models referenced "I want to Rock and Roll" with, "I like to rock and roll part of every day. I can only rock and roll from three to five."
  • When Scott was reading Twas the Night Before Christmas to his son in The Santa Clause, his son mistakes "arose such a clatter" for "a Rose Suchak ladder". This turns out to be justified.
  • In Life of Brian, Brian and his mother are listening to Jesus' Sermon of the Mount from way in the back row, prompting Brian's mother to ask, "Did he say, 'Blessed are the Cheesemakers'?"
  • Winnie the Pooh 2011: Pooh and his friends thought that Christopher Robin was kidnapped by a monster known as the Backson because Pooh actually mistranslated Christopher's message "I'll be back soon."
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: "Frollo's nose is long, and he wears a truss." [1]
    • Laverne was actually saying that she heard "his nose is long and he wears a dress."
  • In Flushed Away, Roddy protests to the thugs looking for Rita that he's just an innocent bystander. They now think that Roddy's name is Millicent Bystander.
  • The Christmas short Olive the Other Reindeer has this set off the plot. Upon hearing on the radio that one of Santa's reindeer is injured and that they'll be counting on "all of the other reindeer," Olive decides that Santa did not say this, but the title, and that she is not a dog at all, and that she is in fact, a reindeer. So she goes to the North Pole to prove it. A bus driver later tells Olive that he used to think the pledge of Allegiance was about him, Richard Stands. As in, "And to the Republic, for Richard Stands."
  • Near the end of Cars 2, Mater, Finn McMissile, and Holly Shiftwell are all captured by the Lemons and are trapped inside a giant clock tower in London, England. As the Lemons proceed to drop Mater into the clock's gears to shed him alive, the tow truck immediately yells, "Dad gum!", and as a result he accidentally deploys his weapons Finn and Holly gave him and blasting away the ropes suspending them over the clock gears, therefore freeing himself and allowing them.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • "Blowin' in the Wind": In Salman Rushdie's novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, a character has the magical ability to hear in his mind songs that will become hits three years into the future. But sometimes the lyrics come out garbled. When he heard Bob Dylan's aforementioned song, he thought the chorus went "The ganja my friend is growing in the tin..."
  • In Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs Dave Barry has an entire section on mondegreens. Ironically, it's in a different section that he awards the "Certificate of Redundancy Certificate" to Paul McCartney and Wings for the line (from "Live and Let Die"), "But if this ever-changing world in which we live in..." not knowing that the actual line goes, "But if this ever-changing world in which we're livin'..."
  • The children's novel In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson has the protagonist mangling the Pledge of Allegiance on her first day of school in the US:

Shirley: I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America. And to the wee puppet, for witches' hands, one Asian, in the vestibule, with little tea and just rice for all.

  • The Lois Lowry novel All About Sam renders the Pledge of Allegiance as the Pled Jelly-Juntz. Justified as the protagonist is four years old.
  • In the novel The Prisoner of Pineapple Place, set in an invisible alley of invisible residents, the protagonist believes the words of the Pledge are "One nation, invisible, with liberty and justice for all". The story suggests this might be an intentional Mondegreen on the teacher's part, given the residents' own invisibility.
  • There's a running joke in Good Omens about how all cassette tapes left in cars will eventually metamorphose into tapes of "The Greatest Hits of Queen". Crowley listens to the song "Radio Ga Ga", hearing the lyrics "All we need is Radio Ga Ga". It's actually "All we hear is Radio Ga Ga."
  • "Olive, the other reindeer ..." (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: "...All of the Other Reindeer..."). Inevitably, a book called Olive, The Other Reindeer was published in 1997, and was turned into a Christmas Special in 2003 by Matt Groening of The Simpsons fame.
  • One of Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby books had the titular protagonist thinking that the lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner began "Oh say can you see, by the dawnzer's lee light" and becoming convinced that "dawnzer" must be another word for "lamp."
  • John T. Sladek's novel The Müller-Fokker Effect (really!) has the following version of The Star-Spangled Banner:

Ofay can you pee
By the dong's surly blight
What you probably inhaled
At the toilet's last cleaning.

  • An in-universe mondegreen names the book Snot Stew: it comes from the kitten protagonists mishearing the human children arguing: "Is not!" "Is too!" becomes "S'not!" "S'tew!"
  • A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt (a memoir of growing up in Ireland and moving to America) uses a mondegreen from the prayer "Hail Mary" -- "blessed art thou amongst women".
  • Novelization of Revenge of the Sith has this dialogue between Gunray and Anakin:

Gunray: Palpatine promised to leave us in peace!
Lord Vader: The transmission was garbled. He promised to leave you in pieces.

  • In Warrior Cats Crookedstar's Promise, barn cat Fleck thinks that the moonstone (a place where warriors communicate with their ancestors) is the foodstone. Prompts the hilarious line "Is there a foodstone as well as a moonstone?"
  • The title The Catcher in The Rye comes from an in-universe Mondegreen, Holden mishears the song "Comin' Thru the Rye" and adopts this mistaken phrase as his future purpose in life, forming a mental image of himself catching kids who are running around in a rye field (which is inexplicably placed on "some crazy cliff," which to him is symbolic of protecting them from adult themes, especially sex. The song is actually, very ironically, about two lovers meeting to have sex in a rye field.
  • Several books by Gavin Edwards (before the Internet made reading and sharing mondegreens easy), in the 1990's are collections of these sent in by readers: 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy, He's Got The Whole World in his Pants, When a Man Loves a Walnut, and Deck the Halls with Buddy Holly.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The line Soy un perdedor," from Loser by Beck was called out in a VH-1 special on the best songs of the 90s, where various musicians and critics sang what they thought Beck was saying instead of the Spanish line.
  • "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly" was mondegreened in the television series V by none other than Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund himself.

Willie: Deck the halls with lousy folly/Fa la la la la, la la la la/Tis the evening scruffy molly/Fa la la la la, la la la la/Don't we know how gay a carol/Fa la la, la la la, la la la/Holy moly Yule Tide carol/Fa la la la la, la la...

  • A butchering of "Hold me closer, tiny dancer" by Elton John is referenced in an episode of Friends, wherein Phoebe is convinced that "Hold me close, young Tony Danza" is the actual line.
  • Electric Light Orchestra's "Don't Bring Me Down" is referenced in VH-1's "I Love The 70s Volume 2." The made up word, groose is often mistaken for Bruce.

"I just want to know who Bruce is."

  • Greg from Dharma and Greg had a habit of this. "I want to Rock and Roll all night... And part of every day!" Dharma tries to correct him ("...Party every day"), and he drunkenly replies, "If you party every day, how can you get enough rest to Rock and Roll the next night?"
  • Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. When MTV aired the music video, they subtitled lyrics into the video. (Unfortunately, even MTV got the lyrics wrong. It's no wonder why Weird Al's parody pokes fun at the fact the lyrics are nigh-impossible to understand.)
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 had fun with Pod People "Idiot control! Bees on pot! Burning rubber tires!" The funny thing is some of the ridiculous lines Joel and the bots sang are the real lines. Also, one must remember this is a dub of a Spanish movie so it's bound to have major issues.
  • Ken Lee ("Can't live [without you]", Without You). Made famous by this clip from the Bulgarian version of Pop Idol.
  • Six Feet Under - In-Universe pop-star Celeste's song Set My Loving Free is sung by Keith as Shave My Legs For Free.
  • In Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Greg Proops confuses the title of Sir Mix-a-lot's "Baby got back" with "Ladies got back.
  • In the TV show Wings one episode's subplot revolved around Antonio becoming a busker in the airport, singing a song he learned back in Italy (his introduction to English): "My Goat Knows the Bowling Score, Hallelujah." After everyone gets sick of him singing the same line over and over they suggest he go on to the next verse, which he does: "Sid's new hair is in the mail, Hallelujah." (That is, "Michael, row the boat ashore" and "Sister, help to trim the sail", respectively.)
  • The Australian TV show Comedy Inc. has fun with this trope in their stop-motion vignette series Ernest the Engine and Others where the character Stevie the Steam Train tends to "stutter badly at the most inappropriate of times", such as when he sings the song "Country Roads".
  • The main character of Victorious mistook the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song lyric "shooting some b-ball outside the school" as "chewing some meatballs outside the school."
  • In Small Steps, Armpit mishears the words "I'm but" as "Armpit".
  • A game on Never Mind the Buzzcocks called "Indecipherable Lyrics" is based on the teams trying to deliberately come up with entire verses' worth of mondegreens for particularly mumbled songs. See also Something Something Leonard Bernstein and Perishing Alt Rock Voice (the latter a common cause of Mondegreens.

Magazines[edit | hide]

  • There was an article in a 1980s Readers Digest in which the author recounted how, as a child, she thought that the first line went of The Star-Spangled Banner, "O say can you see, by the daunserly light" and kept "daunserly" as her secret, magical word. She was eventually corrected on this by her family when she decided that it couldn't hurt to share that magical word with her sister who, of course, initially had no idea what she was referring to.


Music[edit | hide]

  • "She's my little blue scoop, picks up all of my rocks" ("She's my little Deuce coupe/You don't know what I've got", The Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe). Filk artist Tom Smith includes this in Smurfin' Safari, a medley of Smurf-themed Beach Boys parodies.
  • Joan Baez's cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band has a number of Mondregreens, as she learned the song by listening to the recording repeatedly rather than through a lyrics sheet. Notable ones are singing "So much cavalry" instead of "Stoneman's cavalry," and "I took a train to Richmond that fell" in place of "by May the tenth, Richmond had fell." Most of the changes are minor, and none hurt the power of the song at all.
  • The Bangles included a cover of "Sweet and Tender Romance" on their 2011 album Sweetheart of the Sun. Despite having found no official lyrics. Susanna Hoffs remarked, "We listened to the McKinley Sisters' recording over and over again, and could decode most of the words, but in the end we guessed a bit! What you hear on the record is actually our "scratch" vocals, and in fact Vicki and I are singing different words!"
  • "Slow Uncle Walter/The fire engine guy" ("Smoke on the water/A fire in the sky", Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple). The Barenaked Ladies pay homage to this Mondegreen in their song "The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel":

Rubberneck traffic and passers-by/ And Slow Motion Walter the fire engine guy / Stand around with their mouths open wide...

  • Electric Light Orchestra's "Don't Bring Me Down", is frequently mondegreened as "Don't bring me down, Bruce!" The actual lyric is "Don't bring me down, groose", which is a made-up word. ELO realized so many people were hearing this that they actually started singing it live.
  • Cover artists are divided as to whether the line in Elvis's Peace in the Valley is "the Lamb is the Light" or "the lamp is alight."
  • Doug Ingle's slurred and/or drunk/stoned mispronunciation of "In The Garden of Eden" has likewise become the official title of the famous Iron Butterfly song, "Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida".
  • "Hey Sandy" by Polaris was the theme tune to The adventures of Pete and Pete, with a famously unintelligible lyric which the band swore they would never reveal. The lyrics have been guessed as everything from "Can you settle to shoot me" to "can you see the shroom babe" and no one is any the wiser.
  • One of the more famous mondegreens is "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" ("'Scuse me while I kiss the sky", Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze). Hendrix, aware of the mondegreen, was actually known to pause at this point in the song and either point to or kiss one of his male band members during concerts. In at least a few live recordings, he very clearly says "kiss this guy" or "kiss that guy".
  • "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes has the line "And the feeling coming from my bones...", but it sounds exactly like "And the feeling coming from my balls..."
  • Kings Of Leon has an intentional aversion/backstory example in Sex on Fire, one of their biggest hits. The Word Salad Lyrics originally featured "Set Us On Fire" as the chorus, but everybody would Mondegreen it as "Sex on Fire". According to The Other Wiki, one of the sound mixers came in and said, "Sex on fire, huh?" It became a running joke, and eventually the group not only changed the lyrics, but made it the album title track.
  • The Peter, Paul, and Mary song "Leaving on a Jet Plane" inspired the Pinkard and Bowden parody "Libyan on a Jet Plane".
  • "Wrapped up like a douche" ("Revved up like a deuce" (coupe) in the Manfred Mann's Earth Band version of Bruce Springsteen's Blinded By The Light)
  • From That Other Wiki, Mairzy Doats is built of intentionally inverting this trope. For those not willing to go to the link here are the actual lyrics on the sheet:

Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, woooden shoo?
(Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy
A kid'll eat ivy, too, wouldn't you?)

  • Stevie Nicks gives us an example of an Ascended Trope. The first time she met Tom Petty's wife Jane, Jane said that she and Tom met "at the age of seventeen." However, her thick Southern accent made it sound like "Edge of Seventeen." Nicks liked the sound of it, and wrote a song around it.
  • Folk singer John Prine, in a live version of his song "That's the Way that the World Goes 'Round," mentions a fan who told him she liked the lyrics "It's a happy enchilada, and you think you're gonna drown." Actual lyric: "It's a half an inch of water, and you think you're gonna drown." Rather than correcting the fan, he told her he was glad she liked the words.
  • Pink Martini actually recorded a Mondegreen not realizing it was the wrong lyric. In "Amado Mio," a cover of another song, China Forbes sings "I want you ever, I love my darling, wanting to hold you and hold you tight" - and only later did the band realize that the words are "My one endeavor, my love, my darling."
  • They Might Be Giants' John Linnell wrote a song called Olive, The Other Reindeer, named after a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer mondegreen of "...All of the Other Reindeer..."
  • Australian punk legends Radio Birdman took their name from a misheard lyric in The Stooges' "1970" - Radio burnin up above...
  • Weird Al got the idea for "Like a Surgeon" from Madonna Mondegreening her own song "Like a Virgin" while talking to a friend.

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • In a theatrical parody called Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer about a crossdressing/gay reindeer, the Snowman-narrator sings a song about a woman named "Sylvia Gould" until the Luberjack corrects him that it's supposed to be "Silver and Gold."


Web Comic[edit | hide]

  • As Suicide for Hire points out, Nightwish's "Romanticide" apparently includes the lyrics, "Happy haunting, you taco-faced carny fork." (The actual line is, "Happy hunting, you double-faced carnivore.")


Web Original[edit | hide]

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never yab to bye, adaaa dada banana boat, and auld lang synnne.

  • In the Riff Trax for New Moon, the commentators joke that one of the songs on the soundtrack seems to say "Armed with your staring fly." The song is Roslyn by bon Iver and St. Vincent and the real words are "Aren't we just terrified?"
  • This little bit from Snopes on an old Disney picture/audio book certainly counts.
  • The Archive of Misheard Lyrics, whose website URL comes from a mondegreen of Hendrix "Purple Haze", is possibly the biggest archive of mondegreens in existence.
  • The Similou's All This Love inspired a mini fad on YTMND about the famous communist hero, Rainbow Stalin.


Web Video[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Even the subtitles are uncertain what the one-lined end credits to Aqua Teen Hunger Force say. Sometimes it's "Dancing is Forbidden", other times it is "Dance Finger Puppets."
  • Family Guy's version of "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly" on the first Christmas episode ("A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas"), the lyric was sung by Cleveland and Quagmire as "Deck the balls on Uncle Charlie..." (in syndication, the line is partially muted, so all Cleveland and Quagmire say is "...on Uncle Charlie...")
  • "f'in cry" (Stewie's line in the Family Guy theme song, "Laugh and cry"). A clearer version was used in the third season due to censor complaints, but the clearer version has since been dropped ever since the show came back from cancellation.
  • Angelica once mondegreened the entire song, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on an episode of Rugrats, something like this: "My country tears of thee, sweet land of lizardy, of thee I see. Land that my father buyed, land of my chill and pie, From every mountain slide, let freedom ring." She also did something similar with "America the Beautiful" on another episode, which started out "O beautiful, for spaceship eyes..." Later substituting "America, America..." with (what else?) "Angelica, Angelica" And in case that wasn't sufficiently self-centered: "...from me to shining me!"
  • Histeria!! did a number on the Pledge of Allegiance, with Toast messing up every line. It included the "Richard Stands" mistake and ended, "One naked, undergarments, invisible man, with Liberace and puffed rice for all!"
  • Another example of subtitle mishaps, The Simpsons episode "Moe Baby Blues" when aired on Sky 1 has the line "No means no for Elmo!" subtitled as "A smack in the mouth!"
    • Another Simpsons subtitling example: in the episode "The Last Temptation of Homer", when Bart (imitating Jerry Lewis) says "My voice is crazy with the spraying already!" after getting his throat sprayed, the subtitles ALWAYS have it as "My voice is crazy with this braying already!"
  • In Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, when Jimmy Jones is naming some of Ben's aliens, he incorrectly identifies Jetray as "Jeffrey". Ben corrects him.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The version of Purple Haze in Guitar Hero World Tour is a live recording and includes the line "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" modified to "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" - while he points to a man!

Notes

  1. A truss is a tricorn-like headdress worn by judges in the Middle Ages