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What Is It Called When You Mishear Song Lyrics?

Have you ever made a mistake like thinking "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" was "Excuse me while I kiss this guy"? That's called a mondegreen. Read on about other types of funny mishearings and mistakes, including spoonerisms, malapropisms, and eggcorns.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
July 12, 2013
Episode #375

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Spoonerisms, mondegreens, eggcorns, and malapropisms are all instances where you get the words wrong. My brain is starting to hurt trying to keep the names straight, so I'm going to try to summarize them.

  • Spoonerisms are what you get when a speaker mixes up sounds, making phrases such as better Nate than lever. Remember William Spooner and his particular kind of mix up such as The Lord is a shoving leopard instead of The Lord is a loving shepherd.
  • Mondegreens are what you get when listeners mishear words; for example when people think the song lyrics are Sweet dreams are made of cheese instead of Sweet dreams are made of this. Think of Lady Mondegreen being laid on the green.
  • Eggcorns are what you get when people swap homophones in phrases, such as spelling hear, hear H-E-R-E instead of H-E-A-R. Remember the woman who mistook acorn for eggcorn.
  • Malapropisms are what you get when someone substitutes a similar-sounding word for another, such as He's the pineapple of politeness instead of He's the pinnacle of politeness. Remember Mrs. Malaprop from the Sheridan play. 

Word Mix-Ups and Alzheimer’s

Finally, one not-so-funny thing about a specific way of mixing up words is that it can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. My dad had Alzheimer’s, and one of the things we noticed was that he would use a related word instead of the right word. He might call his watch a “time” for example or a chair a “sit.” The Alzheimer’s Association also lists this kind of problem as one of the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s. They give the example of calling a watch a “hand-clock.” So if someone in your family is having this kind of problem, don’t panic, but you might want to have him or her see a doctor.

Also see Could an Epilepsy Drug Prevent Alzheimer’s?

Other Funny Examples from Readers

“I shall never forget the day I was reciting the names of the three Rice Krispies guys....Crap, Snackle, & Pop.” --English Prof's Daughter

“I'll never forget when my five-year old nephew asked me for the Parmesan cheese for his pizza. Since I don't hear well, I asked him to repeat what he said. He leaned closer to me and shouted, ‘Where is the Farmer John cheese?’”--RaysAunt

“I always thought people were saying "windshield factor." I didn't realize it was "wind chill factor" until my 20s. I justified by thinking that when you are in the car it is warmer, but the WINDSHIELD factor takes into account the elements if you were outside of the car.”--Stephanie

“My boss thought the Hoodoo Guru's song was 'I've a dog called Theodore' not 'My girl don't love me no more'.”--Chelly

“I once entered a store and asked the sales clerk if they carried unfurnished finiture instead of unfinished furniture. My husband once asked, ‘Is the smoke kitchy?’"--kathy

“Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”--Mindi

“Don't forget that Cheap Trick told us, ‘The dream police, they come to pee in my bed.’” :P--Michael

“Don't forget the chapter in Ramona the Pest where Ramona tries to find out what a donzer is after hearing about the "donzerly light" in the national anthem.” --Jenny

The song "It's a Mistake" by Men at Work always sounds like "It's Amish Day" to me. I always sing it that way! --Michelle

“Whenever George W Bush says nuclear weapons, I always hear it as new killer weapons, no matter how hard I listen.”--Chris Murray

“My favorite mondegreen is the one about the forest creature named "Gladly" who had poor vision: 

Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.”--John David Herman

Share your funny story in the comments below!

References

1. Hat tip for the “little fit bunny” example goes to a commenter who went by “Moose.”

2. Wikipedia contributors. “Spoonerisms.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoonerism

3. “spoonerism.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spoonerism

4. Liberman, M. “Egg Corns: Folk Etymology, Malapropism, Mondegreen, ???” LanguageLog.com. September 23, 2003. http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000018.html (accessed July 11, 2013).

5. Kristopher. “Dogberry and his Malapropisms.” Much Ado About Nothing and Everything Else Shakespearean. February 5, 2008. http://everythingshakespearekristophermiller.blogspot.com/2008/02/dogberry-and-his-malapropisms.html

Related Books

Stoopnagle's Tale is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok by Keen James

The Rails I Tote by Christopher Manson

Runny Babbit, a Billy Sook by Shel Silverstein

Far From the Madding Gerund by Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum

'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy by Gavin Edwards

When a Man Loves a Walnut by Gavin Edwards 

He's Got the Whole World in His Pants by Gavin Edwards

The Rivals by Richard Sheridan

Confused man image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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