I bet you all know a mondegreen or two even if you had no idea that they were called mondegreens.
A mondegreen is a misheard word or phrase. One of the most famous examples is the line in Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze in which he sings 'Excuse me while I kiss the sky'. Urban legend has it that certain anti-gay protestors (deliberately?) misheard this as 'kiss this guy' and attempted to use this to undermine Hendrix's sexy credibility. Another famous one is the line 'There's a bad moon on the rise' from Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which is often misheard as 'bathroom on the right'. For years, Dawn couldn't figure out what Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate was singing in the song You Sexy Thing. It sounded to her like 'I believe in milko'. It turned out to be 'miracles'. It still sounds like 'milko' to me to this day.
The term mondegreen has its origin in an essay titled 'The death of the Lady Mondegreen' by US writer Sylvia Wright and published in Harper's Magazine in 1954. In the essay, Wright described how, for many years, she'd believed that a character called Lady Mondegreen had been killed in a 17th century Scottish ballad that she'd learned as a child. The final two lines of The Bonnie Earl O'Murray should read:
They hae slain the Earl O'Murray,
And laid him on the green.
But Wright had heard the last line as 'and Lady Mondegreen', assuming that there was a second victim. As there was no existing term to describe this phenomenon (as there is for spoonerisms, malapropisms etc.), she proposed that the word 'mondegreen' be adopted. And so it was.
Among my favourites are Dylan's 'The ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind'; the line from Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit that claims 'Here we are now, in containers'; and the line in the Eagles' Hotel California that says, 'Such a nice surprise when your rabbit dies' (actually, 'bring your alibis').
There is a website (there's always a website), excellently named Kiss This Guy, where misheard song lyrics are posted. It's a good laugh to have a mooch around in their archives although some of the examples do seem to be a bit contrived at times.
But if a mondegreen is, by definition, something accidentally misheard, what should we call a word or phrase that is deliberately designed to make you hear something different? Surprisingly, there's a lot of it about.
Brit comedy duo The Two Ronnies' most famous sketch centres on a hardware store where deliberate mondegreens abound. The customer wants 'fork handles' and the vendor supplies 'four candles' and so on. Hilarity ensues. And many songs - mostly comic - have been written that play upon misheard lyrics. The late, great Benny Hill had a song called Rubber Balloons which was supposedly the cry of a balloon seller but when sung at the right moment in the narrative (and in the presence of a well-endowed young lady) became an instruction instead (I did find the first part of it on Youtube - sadly the part where it becomes a sketch with 'Val' singing over the top is unavailable as far as I can see).
And then there's the 1934 novelty song by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston that goes:
'Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?'
It seems to be compete nonsense until you ... er ... reverse-mondegreen (?) it and hey presto! It suddenly becomes a song about the eating habits of hoofed mammals.
A reverse-mondegreen, eh? Sadly, Neergednom is just too clumsy. I propose that we call it a mairzydoat.
Your thoughts, as always, are hugely welcome.