Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Say What? By Shirley Raye Redmond

I learned a new word this week—mondegreen, a misunderstanding of a statement or song lyric. An American writer named Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954. As a child, she’d misunderstood the lyrics of a Scottish ballad, “The Bonnie Earl of Murray.” The original words are, “They have slain the Earl of Murray and lay’d him on the green.” Sylvia thought they were singing, “They have slain the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen.”

And so a new word was born.

My family has been committing mondegreens for years without realizing it! When my daughter was very young, she thought the Beach Boys were singing about a “little loose tooth” instead of the more well known Little Deuce Coupe. She also thought Patty Page was crooning about some guy called “OK John” instead of Old Cape Cod. Bethany could never figure out why—since the man was just ok—everyone was sure to fall in love with OK John.

Ask almost anybody, and they’ll willingly (if not sheepishly) confess one of their own mondegreens or share one they’d heard before. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “I led the pigeons to the flag” (I pledge allegiance to the flag)
  • “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear “(from the hymn, Gladly the Cross I Bear)
  • “There’s a bathroom on the right” (from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, Bad Moon Rising—“there’s a bad moon on the rise”)
  • “Youth In Asia” for euthanasia
  • “With all my infections I do thee endow” (from wedding vow—with all my affection)
  • bow and arrow transplant (for bone marrow transplant)

So, what’s your favorite mondegreen?

An award-winning writer and frequent conference speaker, Shirley Raye Redmond is the author of three inspirational novels, PRUDENCE PURSUED, VIPER’S NEST, and AMANDA’S BEAU, as well as two dozen children’s books, including LEWIS & CLARK: A PRAIRIE DOG FOR THE PRESIDENT (Random House), which was a Children’s Book of the Month Club selection. Shirley Raye holds an M.A. in literature and teaches through the Institute of Children’s Literature. She has been married to her husband Bill for over forty years. They live in New Mexico and are blessed with two grown children and three adorable grandchildren. Touch bases at shirleyrayeredmond.com or Facebook.


  1. Shirley, I've heard several mondegreen with hymns and some from children. Thank you for sharing. I'll have to put my thinking cap on to recall specific ones.

  2. Thanks for the chuckle this morning. These were great. I've heard some doozies as well (mostly from children), but can't think of any at the moment.

    1. Children are notorious for mondegreens!

    2. Children are notorious for mondegreens!

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  4. My favorite mondegreen is from my DH. In Jimmy Buffet's song, Margaritaville, a favorite of ours (its non-secular obviously) there's a line that says "stepped on a pop top, cut my heel..." referencing when beverage cans had a sharp peel off aluminum top. He insists lyrics are "stepped on a Pop Tart" 😁 and still continues to sing along that way despite proof to the contrary 🤣

  5. I am notorious for misunderstanding song lyrics and I have often been sad to learn that some of my favorite songs had lyrics that were questionable. I just continue to sing them in my head the way I thought they were!

  6. Cute post. I'll have to try and remember some lyrics that are a little off!