December 17, 2018

Well, most of this Monday has passed, and I’m just now trying to write installment #2 of Mondegreen Monday and get it posted while it’s still Monday.

As I pointed out last week, the definition of mondegreen is “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung.” Our culture is quite familiar with mondegreens as misheard lyrics. Sometimes the misperception is ludicrous, sometimes laughable, and often being totally plausible. In the Facebook comments on last week’s installment, one song was referenced by my older brother David and by my friend Garland Bluhm, and that song was “Silver Bells.” Since that one is appropriate for the season, I’ll review the inaugural article with mondegreens from that song.

My brother misheard the first two lines of the first verse as “City sidewalks, pretty sidewalks/Festive hollandaise sauce.” My friend Garland heard the second line as “Dressed in hollandaise sauce.” I myself have an example of a misheard lyric in this famous Christmas song: “City sidewalks, gritty sidewalks.” (Personally, I think my version makes perfect sense, and is probably more likely to be true. But I digress.) Of course, the actual lines are “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks/Dressed in holiday style.”

More examples from song lyrics and/or poetic verses are sure to follow in this series. But for now, I want to turn my attention to another category of misheard lines, not from song or verse, but from real life conversations. I mentioned my own problem of tinnitus often garbling what others say. And that online Merriam-Webster definition does indeed include the “mishearing of something said,” so this category is certainly valid for this series of blogs.

Many times, the examples in my life involve mishearing something my wife has said. Beth sometimes lets her volume trail off at the end of her sentences, and she also has a habit of trying to talk to me from a completely different room in the house. But it’s not all Beth’s fault; mainly, it’s the ringing/hissing sound I hear day in and day out. And if there are other noises in the background, that complicates matters even more. Over the years, I’ve learned to repeat back to Beth what I’ve heard (or what it sounded like), no matter how ludicrous it is, just so she’ll know that communication has not been achieved.

One example immediately comes to mind. Years ago, were in the car, and as I was driving, she was talking to me. You might think that being seated right beside me, I would have had no trouble hearing her. But the engine noise, the car’s AC, the noise of traffic, all of this created a cacophony of sound that garbled her speech. I later learned that what she actually said was “He keeps it as simple as possible.” (I’ve long since forgotten the context of that statement.) What I heard was, “Heathcliff’s mission impossible.”

As I said, that example was from years ago. Let me conclude with one more example of a conversational mondegreen that took place just days ago. Beth made the statement at the breakfast table, “I want a little salt.” As embarrassing as this is to admit, what I heard was “I want your stool soft.” My first thought was, “Well, I do too, honey. But even for husband and wife, that’s getting kinda personal. And besides, it’s hardly an appropriate topic for discussion over breakfast.”