Lady Mondegreen

Ireland’s industry

There’s a bathroom on the right

Excuse while I kiss this guy

What do these statements have in common? They’re all mondegreens. What’s a mondegreen, you ask? Let me show you…

Ireland’s industry – Islands in the stream (Islands in the Stream, Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers)

There’s a bathroom on the right – There’s a bad moon on the rise (Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Excuse me while I kiss this guy – Excuse me While I Kiss the Sky (Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix)

A mondegreen is a misheard song lyric. The unusual-sounding word was coined by American writer Sylvia Wright in 1954 when she wrote about how she misheard the line …and laid him on the green from the 17th-century Scottish ballad “The Bonnie Earl of Moray” as …and Lady Mondegreen.

I’m quite fond of mondegreens, simply because they can be very funny, but they’re also a great leveller. No matter your mastery of the English language, the rhythms of song lyrics and the accompanying make it often quite hard to heard lines correctly. Plus, we tend to expect language to follow familiar patterns, so it makes more sense to our brains to kiss a guy than kiss the sky. (It’s also only fair to point out that in normal conversational connected speech, Excuse me while I kiss this guy and Excuse me while I kiss the sky sound identical.)

We all have our own mondegreens. The one I always remember from my youth is Prefab Sprout’s “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” I always thought the line Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque was actually Hot dog, jump in fire, how about turkey? Which I think works equally well. I also thought the Transformers jingle proclaimed them to be robots in the skies, as opposed to in disguise. It never made sense to me, because only some of them could fly.

I was surprised to discover that the most-commonly misheard line, according to a British survey was Call me if you try to wake her up from R.E.M’s “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite,” which people mishear as Calling Jamaica. It kind of fits I suppose, but you really need to stretch it! I would have thought Haddaway’s “What is Love” (When You Don’t Hurt Me instead of Baby Don’t Hurt Me) would be more common, or Abba’s “Waterloo” (How does it feel to have won the war? instead of I was defeated, you won the war).

What are some of your mondegreens?

16 thoughts on “Lady Mondegreen

  1. I present you with the greatest incomprehensible song ever written, with a particularly wonderful interpretation. Nearly a quarter of a century and I still can’t make hear nor tail of the lyrics.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Man, I always found Eddie Vedder hard to understand, but that’ something else! Micheal Stipe’s another I could never understand, and R.E.M. never included lyrics in the liner notes.


      • Ah yes, Michael Stipe. For year I thought he was singing “I’m only trying to wake her up” on The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight.

        Pearl Jam still frequently belt out Yellow Ledbetter live. I’m convinced that Eddie makes up different words every time. Testament to the fact that it is such a great melody, it doesn’t matter what the words are; everyone is free to have their own interpretation.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for providing me with the word ‘mondegreen’! I’ve always thought that there must be a linguistic term for ‘misheard lyrics’.

    When I was young, I used to think that Nirvana’s song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ went like this:
    And we all love
    Mashed potatoes!

    Instead of the actual lyrics being:
    Here we are now
    Entertain us!

    In my small head it made sense 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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