The song “Live and Let Die” came on the radio this morning, and it made me think: is this phrase now better-known than the original phrase (live and let live) that it references?
Robots in the Skies
This was a common refrain of my childhood. From my lips, anyway, for you might recognise this as a mondegreen. Anyone familiar with 80s and 90s children’s cartoons/toys might know that I was mishearing the lyrics to the Transformers cartoon. The line of course should be robots in disguise.
Which makes a lot more sense. I mean, that’s the whole point of the Transformers. They’re in disguise. They’re robots, and they’re in disguise. In my defence, some of them could fly, so my interpretation made sense to six-year-old me. Still, on paper, in the skies and in disguise are fairly distinct. Th doesn’t sound like D, E doesn’t sound like I, and K doesn’t sound like G. How could I make such a mistake?
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?