Monday, April 20, 2009


You know those times where you can't quite make out the lyric in the song you are listening to? They have a word for it: Mondegreen. One example I can think of is "Smoke over Water" being misheard as "Slow Motion Walter".

Mondegreens are one of the reasons that when it comes to pop music, I am first and foremost a fan of Frank Sinatra. Listening to his recordings, he is always understandable. There isn't a need to consult a lyric sheet. I would say that making your listeners have to consult one shows the singer is a piker. Mick Jagger has been slurring his words all his career - and gotten away with it.

Says Rule Forty Two, Mondegreens can be found in every area of the spoken word. For the longest time, I have thought "Expatriate" was spelled "Expatriot", and "Upon" was spelt "apond". Teaching English as a second language, Mondegreens are an occupational hazard. I will never forget the answer two young girls gave me when I asked them if they would ever cheat on their husbands: "Yes, but only in the first year." Many times, I have had the students answer yes to a "What is?" question - "What" being something other than an interrogative. In spoken Chinese, with its tones, Mondegreens are a source of many jokes and foreign misunderstandings.

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