A kiddle-y divey too, wouldn’t you?

I like learning new words. Here’s one: mondegreen.

A mondegreen is a misheard phrase or song lyric. Like thinking “varicose veins” are “very close veins.” Or that “Olive, the other reindeer” used to laugh and call poor Rudolph names.

The word mondegreen comes from a 1954 Harper’s Magazine essay by Sylvia Wright. When Wright was a child, her mother read to her from a big book of poetry. One of Wright’s favorites was a centuries-old Scottish ballad, “The Bonny Earl o’ Moray.” The first verse reads:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands
Oh, where have ye been?
They have slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And laid him on the green.

To Sylvia Wright, the third and fourth lines sounded like this:

They have slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

Wright thought it a pity that Lady Mondegreen had to die too.

The lyrics to the 1943 novelty song “Mairzy Doats” work like a reverse mondegreen, and it’s up to the listener to figure out what they mean:

Maizy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddle-y divey too, wouldn’t you?

Examples of mondegreens abound in lyrics to songs from all genres:

  • Hymns: Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear…
  • Patriotic: Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from a bulb…
  • Christmas: Sleep in heavenly peas…
  • Folk: The ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind…
  • Country: Donuts make my brown eyes blue…
  • Reggae: I can see clearly now, Lorraine is gone…
  • Rock: Hit me with your pet shark…

I find the lyrics to many rock songs really hard to understand. I also have occasionally misheard the names of the bands that play them. For years, I thought the duo Hall and Oates was “Haulin’ Oats.” It confused me. Where would they be takin’ those oats? And why?

What mondegreen are you willing to own up to?

Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

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9 Responses to A kiddle-y divey too, wouldn’t you?

  1. Sharie Van Gilder says:

    For 40 years I sang “And the rockets rang clear” instead of rockets”red glare”–never dawned on me that rockets don’t ring–

  2. Roger Wise says:

    When I was growing up I remember my dad playing “Mairzy Doats” on the piano and singing along and I would sing along too. The lyrics never made any sense to me and I was an adult before I understood what they meant…
    – Mares eat oats and does eat oats
    – And little lambs eat ivy
    – A kid ‘ll eat ivy too
    – wouldn’t you?
    Another mondegreen that always intrigued me was one called “The Hut-Sut” song. The keyboard player in a band that I was in would sing it and it was always an audience favorite:
    – Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah
    – and a brawla brawla sooit

  3. Judie says:

    I’m a little embarrassed but I made myself laugh really hard when I found out the real lyrics. There is a Paul Simon song where he sings “she’d comb her hair and part it. For years I thought it was “and farted”. Always thought they were very strange lyrics!!!

  4. Sharon Regan says:

    PAULETTE these were so funny. I’m still laughing out loud(: Sharon

  5. Riff Noggin says:

    Thanks for the burst-out laughs! Remember Gilda Radner’s SNL character, “Emily Litella”? “What’s all this fuss about violins on television?” Or “busting schoolchildren.” Or “making Puerto Rico a steak.” In high school, we reinterpreted Purple Haze: ” ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” (Jimi Hendrix was kissing “the sky”). As a little kid in Milwaukee when our team won the National League Pennant twice in a row, and won the World Series — my excited dad and uncles taught me that a pennant was a flag. So naturally I thought the Star Spangled Banner was national homage to Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and the gang. After all, we were the “home of the Braves.”

  6. Steve Grover says:

    One of my favorites is ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and the line should say ‘there’s a bad moon rising tonight’ but many folks here this as ‘There’s a bathroom on the right.’

  7. Jessa says:

    Taylor Swift: Starbucks lovers. Look it up. Lol.

  8. June ritchie says:

    I had a client ,new American citizen originally from Spain who thought it was so strange the star spangled banner began Jose can you see.

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