Monday, 16 September 2013

The delights of Lady Mondegreen

While I am recovering from the Great Killer Cook book non-cooking cooking event at Bloody Scotland, here is the last blog I did for Murder is's all about Lady Mondegreens and the happenstance of hearing what you wish to hear.

“Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality”. Joseph Conrad.

But then reality can be over rated.

As a child, American writer Sylvia Wright used to like listening to her mother’s rendition of the Bonnie Earl of Murray from Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Sylvia was very fond of this poem which includes the following stanza:

“Ye highlands and ye lowlands,
Oh, where hae you been?
They hae slain the Earl of Murray,
And laid him on the green.”

What Sylvia actually heard was one thing. Her brain translated the last two lines as

“they hae slain the Earl o Murray
and Lady Mondegreen.”

In Sylvia’s mind Lady Mondegreen was a tragic heroine, murdered alongside her husband by the clan Gordon in the late 1550s. It was only much later in life that Sylvia realised she had misheard the whole thing and her vivid imagination had done the rest.  Sylvia then wrote an article in 1954 for Harpers magazine called “The death of Lady Mondegreen” and so the term ‘Mondegreen’ was born. The definition of a Mondegreen is “the mishearing of a phrase in such a way that it is commonly understood to have an alternative meaning.”  They appear all over the place in. In literature? Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland. The master was an old turtle but called tortoise because he taught us. That doesn’t work at all in a Scottish accent but never mind. The film Life Of Brian, Monty Python Sermon on the Mount scene;
‘blessed are the cheese makers.’
‘What’s so special about the cheese makers?’
‘Well it’s obviously not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.’

And some have moved into popular culture:
Ted Striker: ‘Surely you can’t be serious!’
Dr Rumack: ‘I am serious and don’t call me Shirley!’

There is a famous Scottish legal one which was reproduced in the letters page of the times. It’s from a Scottish solicitor and notary public, who received a letter addressed to a Scottish ‘solicitor and not a republic.’

My Aussie friend tells me that their national anthem, (written in the late 1800’s but only became the national song in 1984) is actually ‘Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.’ It is commonly and mischievously sung as ‘Australians all own ostriches, four minus one is three.’

My own Mondegreen is that famous line from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody; “Spare him his life from these warm sausages” . I think Freddie actually wrote something about ‘these monstrosities.’ My pal has heard that sung as ‘Spare him his life for a warm cup of tea.’

Madonna is a Mondegreen treasure trove. La Isla Bonita. ‘“Young girl with eyes like potatoes.”  Eyes like the desert I believe.  “Last night I dreamt of some bagels.”  Dreamt of San Pedro?  I am a material girl can be heard as ‘I am a cereal girl’. And what about ‘Holiday. Celebrate!’ being Mondegreened as ‘Hollandaise. Salivate!’  I think that’s an improvement.

 Like many children I did think the Lord’s prayer went “Harold be thy name, thy kingdom come.” Until I was old enough to be able to read it.
My gran, slightly hard of hearing used to sing along to that great Donna Summer disco classic. ‘I’ve been mugged’….. I feel love.

The most famous Mondegreen of all is Desmond Dekker’s ‘The Israelites’ often heard as ‘Oh my ears are alight.’ Painful but amusing.

More songs that should have been written. ‘Like a bridge over trouble, Walter,’ by Simon and Garfunkel. ‘I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone,’ by Jimmy Cliff. One wonders if Lorraine was very overweight or just never cleaned the windows. ‘Strawberry fields for Trevor.’ Enough said.  And what about that country classic, ‘He’s a vile stoned cowboy?’   And poor Eva Peron. ‘Don’t cry for me, I’m the cleaner… ‘

Famous Abba Mondegreens?  Chiquitita, tell me what’s wrong? 
                                                      Chicken tikka, tell me what’s wrong
                                                      Kick yer teeth in, tell me what’s wrong.  

The Rev Sabine Bearing- Gould wrote Onward Christian Soldiers in 15 minutes at some point in 1864 and freely admitted that some of the rhymes don’t really scan. But he might still object to the Mondegreen ‘Onward Christian’s soldiers, march your ass to war.’

Medical Mondegreens are common place, probably due to the unusual terminology and the brain attempting to hone in on something more recognisable.
It’s the Heimlich manoeuvre – not the Heimlich remover. There was the man with the ‘baloney amputation’. Below knee amputation I might suggest.    A letter in a medical journal  told of a hospital department regulated by ‘ Sir Michael Spears.’ The letter should have referred to ‘cervical smears’.    And fibroids of the uterus used to be ‘fireballs of the uterus’, now called firewalls of the uterus.

But then again, ‘the first  noel, the angel did say, was to surgeons and shepherds in fields as they lay.’
I did have a patient who was both confused and trying to be helpful, she couldn’t remember the big long name but she was on ‘Anti bi ollocks.’

When I was very wee, my reader at school was ‘New worlds to Conquer.’ It was full of stories of Thor Heyerdahl. Fab. Then I found the story about the man himself when he was at the BBC and they arranged for a car to take him to the airport. Cars came and went, but none for him. One car whoever waited a long time. Then the driver was asked who he was going to pick up. ‘Dogs,’ he said. ‘I’m here for four Airedales.’

If you listen hard to Stevie Winwood ‘Bring me a higher love.’ He is actually singing ‘Bring me an iron lung.’

There was another reported by letter in The Times. A medical secretary typed ‘jockstrap position’. The phrase that had been dictated was of course ‘juxtaposition’.  But food for thought.

The disease cystic fibrosis has the well-known euphamisim /Mondegreen ‘sixty five roses.’

And while we are on bodily parts. Adam Ant? Stand and Deliver?   Stan it’s my liver.

And what about these books that should have been written. Donkey hote.  Danger mouse liaisons. Catch one in the eye.

I think the one that might appeal most to the MIE bloggers comes from the author Monica Dickens. In 1964 she was at a book signing and a lady handed her a book. The woman said, as the author opened the page ready to sign,  Emma Chisit.  Monica signed the book, to Emma Chisit as she realised the woman had actually said, How much is it?


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