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The meaning and origin of the expression: Oh, they have slain the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen

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Oh, they have slain the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen

Meaning

The misheard lyric that was the source of the generic term for misheard lyrics - mondegreens.

Origin

This line was coined inadvertently by the American writer Sylvia Wright. Following her mishearing of the words of the Scottish ballad The Bonny Earl of Moray, she wrote an essay entitles The Death of Lady Mondegreen. This was published in Harper's Magazine in November 1954:

"When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques. One of my favorite poems began, as I remember:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
And Lady Mondegreen."

The actual words of the ballad are:

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands,
O where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl of Moray,
And hae laid him on the green

Wright did us all a service by giving a name to these mishearings - which must always have been with us inthe language.