Yahoo! and Gracenote to End the Mondegreen

Yahoo! and Gracenote have announced a partnership whereby lyrics from the five major music publishers will be made available through Yahoo! Music. Gracenote has been building a database of legal and accurate song lyrics for more than two years, and its incorporation into the Yahoo! Music site means that this vast body of creative work is now easily searchable by typing in even a small fragment of a lyric.

Does this, however, spell the end for the mondegreen? For those not familiar with the term, a mondegreen is an accidental mishearing of a word, phrase or lyric so that it acquires a new (and often amusingly inaccurate) meaning. In fact, the word ‘mondegreen’ is itself a mondegreen (making it an autonym, as is canabrism). It was reputedly first coined by the American writer Sylvia Wright, as she misheard the following verse from Percy’s “Reliques”:

“Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray, [sic]
And Lady Mondegreen.”

The final line here actually reads “And laid him on the green”. I’m sure everyone has a huge amount of personal mondegreens lurking in their brain somewhere – they can often go for years (in some cases, forever) without being uncovered, as it usually takes an explicit encounter with the lyric in written form before one actually realises the mistake.

  • “Grand Parade” becomes “Grandpa Raid”
  • “Gladly the cross I’d bear” becomes “Gladly the cross-eyed bear”
  • “There’s a bad moon on the rise” becomes “There’s a bathroom on the right”
  • “All of the other reindeer” becomes “Olive, the other reindeer”
  • “The dark, sacred night” becomes “The dog say goodbye”

And so on.

A well-known mondegreen appears in Steve Miller’s song The Joker – “Some people call me Maurice, ’cause I speak of the pompatus of love”.

The Joker refers to Miller’s own song Enter Maurice which inaccurately quotes The Letter (by Vernon Green). Green wrote “discuss the puppetutes of love,” where ‘puppetutes’ was a term he coined to mean a secret, paper-doll fantasy figure. So, in this case, the mondegreen of The Joker is actually the correct lyric in that song (which makes it not a mondegreen, even though it is).

Other silly phrases have been brought about by translation errors – the song “Can’t buy me love” was translated into Russian as “Throw a crowbar to the old woman”. Very nice – although not quite as bizarre as Coca-Cola’s translation into Chinese coming out as “bite the wax tadpole“.


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