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.

Mignon Fogarty
8-minute read
Episode #375

mondegreenOh, English. There are so many different kinds of errors that sometimes it seems overwhelming, but today, we’re going to talk about errors you can laugh at—errors like thinking Creedence Clearwater Revival sang There’s a bathroom on the right instead of There’s a bad moon on the rise and saying something is a little fit bunny instead of a little bit funny. (1).


Our “little fit bunny” type of error is called a spoonerism in honor of Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who taught at New College in Oxford in the 1800s and early 1900s, and had a reputation for mixing up words. Reports say that he was less than thrilled to be “honored” by having the error named after him. 

A spoonerism is a particular kind of mix-up. It happens when you swap sounds between two words in a phrase. (2, 3) There are unintentional spoonerisms that don't make sense, such as goys and birls (for boys and girls), and then there are spoonerisms that create new, amusing meanings such as keys and parrots (for peas and carrots) and better Nate than lever (for better late than never).

I confess that on more than one occasion I have called my relatives Gail and Dave, Dale and Gave!

There are also intentional spoonerisms. For example, Keen James wrote a book called Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok  that retells fairy tales using spoonerisms. Chapters include “Beeping Sleuty” and “Prinderella and the Since.” Christopher Manson wrote a book called The Rails I Tote, which has 45 spoonerism cartoons for readers to decipher (such as bee tags for tea bags). And Shel Silverstein authored a book called Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook, which obviously uses spoonerisms.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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