Mental Floss

What is a Mondegreen?

David K. Israel
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Long before I ever knew what a mondegreen was, I used to think the lyrics of David Bowie's "Suffragette City" went like this:Hey man, oh leave me alone, you know Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta Hey man, I gotta straighten my face This malaprop chick's just put my spine out of place

Of course, now I know the original malaprop chick is actually a "mellow-thighed chick," and my head hangs low in shame. But we all do it, right? We all make up lyrics (even words!) when we don't know what the artist is actually singing.

A misheard, or made-up lyric, is called a mondegreen, after Lady Mondegreen.

So who is Lady Mondegreen? Well, she's a misheard lyric herself from an ancient Scottish ballad called "The Bonny Earl of Murray." The last two lines of the original lyric go like this:

They have slain the Earl of Murray, And they layd him on the green.

The American writer, Sylvia Wright, is the one who misheard the lyric when she was a child and wrote about it years later, coining the word mondegreen for this first time in a Harper's Magazine essay published in 1954.

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What about you? We'd love to know what some of your favorite misheard lyrics are.

Check out past On Music posts here >>

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