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The meaning and origin of the expression: Mondegreens

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Mondegreens

The American writer Sylvia Wright frequently wrote for Harper's Bazaar. In November 1954 she wrote an article for the magazine explaining a misinterpretation of a song lyric, which she had made in her youth:

"When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques, and 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 ā€˜The Bonny Earl of Murrayā€™ are:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh where have you been?
They have slain the Earl o' Moray
And layd him on the green.

Of course, by the time she had written the article Wright had realised her mistake but, being a creative writer, she went onto coin a term for that form of error:

"The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original."

The term mondegreen has now been widely adopted to mean 'misheard lyric'. Many of them sadly don't meet Wright's 'better than the original' criteria. Here are a few examples which I think do:

'Scuse me while I kiss this guy (Meaning/Origin)
Beelzebub has a devil for a sideboard (Meaning/Origin)
Killed in a bar when he was only three (Meaning/Origin)
Olive the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names (Meaning/Origin)
The ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind (Meaning/Origin)
The girl with colitis goes by (Meaning/Origin)
There's a bathroom on the right (Meaning/Origin)

... and here's a longer list:

Mondegreen Original lyric Song Writer/singer
A new religion that'll bring you to your knees, like Velveeta Cheese. A new religion that'll bring you to your knees, Black velvet if you please. Black Velvet Allanah Myles
A weenie wack a weenie wack a weenie wack. Wee-ooh wim-o-weh. Wee-ooh wim-o-weh. The Lion Sleeps Tonight Tokens
A year has passed since I broke my nose A year has passed since I wrote my note Message in a Bottle The Police
After the poison summer has gone After the boys of summer have gone Boys of Summer Don Henley
All my luggage, I will send to you. All my loving, I will send to you. Beatles
All the boys think she's a spaz All the boys think she's a spy Bette Davis Eyes Kim Carnes
And there's a wino down the road - I should have stolen Oreos And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls Stairway to Heaven Led Zeppelin
Are you going to starve an old friend? Are you going to Scarborough Fair?   Simon & Garfunkel
Baby come back, you can play Monopoly. Baby come back, you can blame it all on me. Baby Come Back Player
Baking carrot biscuits. Taking care of business. Takin Care Of Business Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Bald headed woman. More than a woman.   Bee Gees
B-b-b-Betty in a dress B-b-b-Bennie and the Jets Bennie and the Jets Elton John
Big girl, small fry. Big girls don't cry.   The Four Seasons
Big Old Jed had a light on Big old jet airliner Jet Airliner The Steve Miller Band
Blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop-tart Blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop-top Margaritaville Jimmy Buffett
Bringing in the sheets. Bringing in the sheaves.   Hymn
Carryin' beans, now we're sharin' the same jeans. Carribean Queen, now we're sharing the same dreams. Billy Ocean
Changes come around real soon; naked swimming in bed Changes come around real soon, make us women and men Jack and Diane John Cougar
Climb every mountain. I'm every woman. Whitney Houston
Come and let me tell you 'bout my bed spread. People let me tell you 'bout my best friend. Courtship of Eddie's Father Theme from the TV Show,
Come shave my heart. Unchain my heart. Ray Charles
Dirty deeds and the thunder chiefs OR Dirty deeds done to sheep. Dirty deeds and they're done dirt cheap.   ACDC
Do a little dance, make a little rum, Italian Ice! Italian Ice! Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight, get down tonight. Do A Little Dance KC & The Sunshine Band
Do the lucky lady. Dude looks like a lady. Aerosmith
Don't you know you've got two chocolate monkeys? Don't you know you've got to shock the monkey Shock the Monkey Peter Gabriel
Donuts make my brown eyes blue. Don't it make my brown eyes blue.   Crystal Gale
Doughnuts make my brown eyes blue Don't it make my brown eyes blue Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue Crystal Gayle
Every time you go away you take a piece of meat with you Every time you go away you take a piece of me with you Every Time You Go Away Paul Young
Everybody in a wholesale frock Everybody in the whole cell block Jailhouse Rock Elvis Presley
Everybody's crazy 'bout a shot glass man Everybody's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man Sharp-Dressed Man ZZ Top
Four-legged woman. More than a woman. Bee Gees
Ghost man so close to me. Don't stand so close to me. The Police
Give me the Beach Boys and free my soul. Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul. Drift Away Dobie Gray
Goin' to the Jack-O-Lantern, gonna get married. Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get married. Chapel of Love Dixie Cups,
Gonna dress you up in nylons Gonna dress you up in my love Dress You Up Madonna
Good-bye yellow brick road. There's a dark cloud inside of the house. So goodbye yellow brick road. Where the dogs of society howl.   Elton John
Got a lot of lucky peanuts. Got a lot of love between us.   Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Ham on rye. I'm alright.   Kenny Loggins
Hang on stupid. Hang on, Sloopy.   The McCoys
Happy as a rafter in the market place. Happy ever after in the market place. Ob la di Beatles
Her heavy head turned to ice cream, being the one Then every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one Billie Jean Michael Jackson
His car has four-wheel drive His car is warm and dry Don't Stand So Close to Me The Police
Hit me with your pet shark Hit me with your best shot Hit me with your best shot Pat Benatar
Hold me closer, Tony Danza Hold me closer tiny dancer Tiny Dancer Elton John
Home, where my love lies waiting, Simon, weep for me. Home, where my love lies waiting, silently for me. Homeward Bound Simon & Garfunkel
Hope the city voted for you. Hopelessly devoted to you.   Grease sound track
How's about a date? Eyes without a face. Eyes Without a Face Billy Idol
I can see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all life's fickles in the way I can see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.   Jimmy Cliff
I can see those spider veins I can see those fighter planes Bullet the Blue Sky U2
I can't climb this ceiling any more. I can't fight this feeling anymore. I can't fight this feeling REO Speedwagon
I could not believe we ever got forty cents I could not believe we'd ever die for these sins Freshmen Verve Pipe
I get locked out, so I go out again I get knocked down, but I get up again Tubthumping Chumbawumba
I really don't like him... Doctor Cashpot, Doctor Cashpot Sharif don't like it - rock the casbah, rock the casbah Rock the Casbah The Clash
I shot the Sheriff, but I didn't shoot him dead you see. I shot the Sheriff, but I didn't shoot the deputy.   Eric Clapton
I sometimes wish I'd never been boiled in oil Sometimes wish I'd never been born at all Bohemian Rhapsody Queen
I supply the face Eyes without a face Eyes Without a Face Billy Idol
I wanna die! Oh, what a night! Oh What a Night The Four Seasons
I wanna know. Have you ever seen Loraine? I wanna know. Have you ever seen the rain?   Creedence Clearwater Revival
I want a new truck. I want a new drug.   Huey Lewis & the News
I want a piece of bacon I wanna be sedated I Wanna Be Sedated The Ramones
I was so mad! I'm a soul man.   Blues Brothers
I wonder, wonder, who, who rode the moo-cow now? I wonder, wonder, who, who wrote the book of love? Book of Love The Monotones
If she would have been paid for If she would have been faithful If She Would Have Been Faithful Chicago
I'll give you diamond Sprite! I'll give you diamonds bright. For Your Love The Yardbirds
I'll never leave your pizza burning. I'll never be your beast of burden.   Rolling Stones
I'm 264 my shirt, 264 my shirt. I'm too sexy for my shirt too sexy for my shirt. I'm Too Sexy Right Said Fred
I'm a pool hall ace. My poor heart aches. Every Step You Take The Police
I'm an educated fool with my knee on my mind I'm an educated fool with money on my mind Gangsta's Paradise Coolio
I'm just a squirrel. I'm just a girl.   No Doubt
I'm not talkin' bout religion I'm not talkin' 'bout movin' in I'd Really Love to See You Tonight England Dan and John Ford Cowley
I'm not talking 'bout Bolivia. I'm not talking 'bout moving in. Really Love to See You Tonight John Ford Collie
I'm standing in the middle of life with my pants behind me I'm standing in the middle of life with my pains behind me Middle of the Road Pretenders
I'm the god of Velveeta, honey. In the garden of Eden, honey.   Iron Butterfly
It's like I told you, only the lonely get laid It's like I told you, only the lonely can play Only the Lonely The Motels
I've been haulin' ass so long. I've been holding out so long. Miss You Rolling Stones
I've got a backache from loving you I've got a bad case of loving you Loving You Robert Palmer
I've got a new pair of shoes. I've got a new attitude.   Patti LaBelle
I've got two chickens with parrot eyes! I've got two tickets to paradise Two Tickets to Paradise Eddie Money
Jay, Jay, Jay; Jay you're cool Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools. Chain of Fools Aretha Franklin
Jeremy's smokin' crack today Jeremy spoke in class today Jeremy Pearl Jam
Jim Dandy ate the red stew Jim Dandy to the rescue. Black Oak Arkansas
Jose can you see? O, Say can you see? The Star Spangled Banner
Just brush my teeth before you leave me, baby. Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby. Angel of the Morning Juice Newton
Just like a one-winged dove. Just like a white winged dove.   Stevie Nicks
Knee deep in doughnuts, children at your feet. Lady Madonna, children at your feet.   The Beatles
Last night I dreamt of some bagels Last night I dreamt of San Pedro La Isla Bonita Madonna
Let Milo open the door. Let my love open the door.   Pete Townsend, The Who
Life ain't nothing but a seven dollar fiddle. Life ain't nothing but a funny funny riddle.   John Denver
Life in the Vaseline. Life in the fast lane.   Eagles
Look into my butterflies. Look into my father's eyes. My Father's Eyes Eric Clapton,
Looks like tomatoes Looks like we made it.   Barry Manilow
Love is a big, fat quivering slug. Love is a big, fat river in flood. Love Is Stronger Than Justice Sting
Makin' carrot biscuits Taking Care of Business Taking Care of Business Bachman Turner Overdrive
Maybe I'll play cards and be as fast as you. Maybe I'll break hearts and be as fast as you.   Dwight Yokum
Medieval woman OR He is a woman Evil woman Evil Woman ELO
Michelle, ma belle, Sunday monkey play no piano song, no piano song. Michelle, ma belle, Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, Tres bien ensemble.   The Beatles
My woman is Okay-O. My woman from Tokyo. Woman From Tokyo Deep Purple
No dogs orgasm in the classroom OR No Dukes of Hazzard in the classroom No dark sarcasm in the classroom Another Brick in the Wall Pink Floyd
Oh my darling lemon pie. Oh my darling, Clementine.   traditional song
Only the good Tyrone. Only the good die young.   Billy Joel
Pay for my Chrysler. Paperback writer.   Beatles
Pick out Jed from the line-up. Big old jet airliner.   Steve Miller Band
Please relieve me - let me go. Please release me, let me go.   Englebert Humperdinck
Police have a dog Feliz Navidad Feliz Navidad Jose Feliciano
Pretty Woman, won't you lick my leg. Pretty Woman, won't you look my way.   Roy Orbison
Red, red wine, steak, lobster meat. Red, red wine, stay close to me.   UB-40
Return da Zenda. Return to sender.   Elvis Presley
Reverend blue jeans Forever in blue jeans Forever in Blue Jeans Neil Diamond
Rocket man, burning all the trees off every lawn Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone Rocket Man Elton John
Running With my billfold Running With the Devil Running With the Devil Van Halen
Searching for my lost singer from Mars. Searching for my last shaker of salt. Margaritaville Jimmy Buffett
Secret Asian man Secret agent man Secret Agent Man Johnny Rivers
Selsun blue Song sung blue Song Sung Blue Neil Diamond
She loved Cheez-Its, and America too. She loved Jesus, and America too. Free Fallin Tom Petty,
She's got a chicken to ride OR She's got a tic in her eye She's got a ticket to ride.   Beatles
She's got better days, besides! She's got Bette Davis eyes Kim Carnes
She's got electric boobs, a mohair too. She's got electric boots, a mohair suit. Benny and the Jets Elton John
Since she left me there've been owls pukin' in my bed. Since she put me down I've been out doin' in my head. Help Me Rhonda Beach Boys
Sing in the light, sing in the light. Stayin' Alive, Stayin' alive.   Bee Gees
Slow walking Walter, the fire engine guy OR Snow covered horses. Smoke on the water, fire in the sky Smoke on the Water Deep Purple
Stand on the rug. Band on the run.   Wings
Starin' at my momma's corpse, the summer'd seem to last forever Standing on my momma's porch, the summer'd seem to last forever Summer of '69 Bryan Adams
Stick your head in lotion. I second that emotion. I Second That Emotion Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Straight arm, straight arm for you. Straight on, straight on for you. Heart
Stretch my dick OR strain my dick Strange magic Strange Magic ELO
Strolling stuntman Stroke me, stroke me The Stroke Billy Squier
Stuffing my face with his fingers Strumming my fate with his fingers Killing Me Softly Roberta Flack
Sugar fried honey butt. Sugar pie, honey bunch. Can't Help Myself Four Tops
Sweet dreams are made of cheese. Sweet dreams are made of this.   The Eurythmics
Sweet tell a lie. Sweet Caroline.   Neil Diamond
Take the back right turn. Paperback writer.   Beatles
Take your pants down, and make it happen Take your passion and make it happen Flashdance Irene Cara
Tape it to a biscuit. Taking care of business. Takin Care Of Business Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Tattoo detective! Try to detect it! Whip It Devo
The bride bless the day, the dogs say goodnight. The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night.   Louis Armstrong
The heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland. The heart of rock and roll is still beating.   Huey Lewis and the News
Then I saw her face, now I'm gonna leave her. Then I saw her face, now I'm a believer.   The Monkees
Through the night, with the light from a bulb. Through the night, with the light from above. God Bless America Irving Berlin
Warm smell of policemen rising up through the air OR warm smell of collegiates rising up through the air Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air Hotel California Eagles
We are living in a Cheerio world, and I am a Cheerio girl We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl Material Girl Madonna
Went to a dance, lookin' for a man, saw Barbara Ann so I thought I'd take a chance. Went to a dance, lookin' for romance, saw Barbara Ann so I thought I'd take a chance. Barbara Ann The Beach Boys
When the rainbow shaves you clean, you'll know When the rain washes you clean you'll know Dreams Fleetwood Mac
Where is my jonbenet; where is my prairie dog? Where is my John Wayne; where is my Prairie Son? Where Have All the Cowboys Gone Paula Cole
Won't you be my bald-headed woman? I want to be your bald-headed man OR Won't you be my four-level woman? I want to be your four-level man Won't you be my forever woman? I want to be your forever man Forever Man Eric Clapton
Wrapped up like a douche, you know the rumour in the night Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night Blinded By the Light Manfred Mann's Earth Band
You and me and Leslie. You and me endlessly. Groovin The Young Rascals
You hardly talk to me anymore, when I Kung Fu the door at the end of the day You hardly talk to me anymore, when I come through the door at the end of the day You Don't Bring Me Flowers Neil Diamond
You have lost your gum forever dreadful sorry, Clementine. You are lost and gone forever dreadful sorry, Clementine.   Traditional song
You made the rice, I made the gravy. You may be right, I may be crazy.   Billy Joel
You make me eat... but Iā€™m on a diet! You make me weak, I'm gonna die Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin' Journey
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, four hundred children and a crop in the field. You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, four hungry children and a crop in the field. Lucille Kenny Rogers
You've got mud on your face, front disc brakes You've got mud on your face, a big disgrace We Will Rock You Queen

Mondegreens...and, as you've got this far, please forgive this image. A parody rather than a mondegreen but quite fun.