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Posted by Gary Martin on June 19, 2001

In Reply to: Mondegreens posted by James Briggs on June 18, 2001

: There has been recent correspondence in the Times about "Mondegreens". I thought that I would share some of it with you.

: Firstly, I hear some of you say, 'What is a Mondegreen?' Well, it's that situation where the listener hears one thing, but the speaker has said something different. It comes from the line of a poem where the words are: "They ha'slain the Earl o'Moray and laid him on the green", but these are misheard as: "They have slain the Earl o'Moray and Lady Mondegreen."

: Here are some of the examples published in the Times:

: I am grateful to Mr Anthony Baker (letter, June 5) for his enlightenment on the nature of a mondegreen. I had laboured for many years under the illusion that the correct term was a "Gladly".
: This derived from my childhood memory of singing in Sunday School a hymn with the line "Gladly, my cross-eyed bear".

: When I was a child my father was watching me and my friends learning a folk dance to the tune "A Merry Conceit". On asking the name of the music, he was bemused to hear it was "American Seat". I still can't hear the difference.

: As a civil servant in the 1950s I heard of an official who received a memo from his boss's secretary inviting him to attend a "haddock-stirring committee" .
: The puzzled official's superior had dictated "ad hoc steering committee".

: I was once majestically written to by a colleague as James Hay, "Solicitor and not a republic". It caused some amusement in the office.
: Yours faithfully, JAMES N.D. HAY (Solicitor and notary public)

: Recently my local newspaper small ads carried, in the pets column an advertisement for a "box of puppies". I puzzled over this until it dawned on me that it should have been "boxer puppies".

: Some years ago, a Scottish friend of my mother mentioned casually to her that the Countess of Ayr was coming for tea the following day.
: It turned out to be the county surveyor .

: I hope you enjoy these!

: James B

I think mondegreens are just those mishearings that come from song lyrics.

Two of my favourites, although more misunderstandings than mishearings, are the UK newspaper headline during WWII "British push bottles up 500 Jerries" and, a contender for the sadest line in English literature: "Sit here for the present", from Cider with Rosie, where a young child went home in tears at the end of the day because he wasn't given the present to teacher had promised him.