We’ll get to mondegreens, I promise.
I previously wrote that I collect mixed metaphors. I recently added another to my trophy case when a colleague told me that he did not want to be the one “crucified at the stake.” Holy crap, son, if you are crucified at the stake, you are having a seriously bad day.
I already knew of one cousin to the mixed metaphor – the malapropism, after Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop, in turn after the French phrase mal à propos, which translates to “inappropriate”, or “ill-suited”. One of my favorites is in Romeo and Juliet, wherein the Nurse, desiring conference with Romeo, says:
If you be he, sir, I desire some confidence with you.
To which Benvolio (Romeo’s pal) says, aside:
She will indite him to some supper.
My Liberal Arts degree is totally paying off…
A silly malaprop joke goes:
Jack was home from college for the holidays. One day he asked his less educated mother if he could tell her a narrative. His mother, not being used to such big words, asked him the meaning of ‘narrative’.
“A narrative is a tale,” Jack said.
That night, when going to bed, Jack asked his mother if she might extinguish the light. She wanted to know the meaning of ‘extinguish’.
“To put out,” Jack said.
A few days later Jack’s mother was giving a party at their home, and the cat wandered into the room. Jack’s mother raised her voice and said confidently, “Jack, take the cat by the narrative and extinguish him.”
Today I learned that the mixed metaphor has another cousin – the mondegreen. A mondegreen is a misheard song lyric or common phrase. Sylvia Wright coined the term in the 1954 essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen”, in which she recounts a childhood memory of being read the ballad of “The Bonnie Earl O’ Murray”. One stanza of the ballad goes:
Ye Highlands, and ye Lawlands
Oh where have you been?
They have slain the Earl of Murray,
And layd him on the green.
Young Sylvia heard:
Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands,
Oh, where have you been?
They have slain the Earl Amurray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
We’ve all done this, or heard someone do it. The two most commonly known mondegreens seem to be from:
Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, wherein:
‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky
‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy
…which is, appropriately, the title of a book devoted to the subject of misheard lyrics.
And from the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds:
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes
The girl with colitis goes by
My current personal favorite is from Credence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising, wherein:
There’s a bad moon on the rise
…is transformed into:
There’s a bathroom on the right
The site kissthisguy.com is the definitive repository, and columnist Jon Caroll has written seminal works on the subject, although he is breathtakingly guilty of using snowclones.
My rule with mixed metaphors, malapropisms and (now) mondegreens remains the same: in order to add one to my personal collection, I have to catch it “in the wild.” And while second-hand reports don’t count, a friend recently shared with me a lovely mixed metaphor from her own collection:
Don’t even get into that bag of worms.