Pet Peeves: Mondegreens!


The other day, while watching “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and chatting with Chet online, sister Khloe K. confidently described a situation punctuated with one of my biggest pet-peeves. Khloe, waxing poetic about her jet-setting life of promoting Sears clothes and general alliterative expression, remarked that the past few weeks had been a WORLD-WIND. “Ugh,” I typed to Chet, “I hate it when people say world-wind instead of whirl-wind!” (Really I hate any number of examples like this…basically, close but no cigar utterances of words and phrases where the speaker has THE AUDACITY to misspeak with such confidence! LOL) He excitedly remarked, “That’s a mondegreen!” Mondegreens, he explained, are the wrong words that come about from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement, song lyric or line.

“People confuse world-wind and whirl-wind because the two utterances world and whirl are in near homophony. Homophonous pairs sound exactly the same but mean different things, like bear and bare. Near homophonous is when they are very close.”  How cute is he? I love stuff like that. And because I’m a word-nerd, I decided to research a few fun examples.

So, these happen a lot in song lyrics because we’re just LISTENING to the song and don’t often see the lyrics written down. Like,

“The girl with colitis goes by” instead of “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” in the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds


“There’s a bathroom on the right” instead of “There’s a bad moon on the rise” in CCR’s Bad Moon Rising.

But there are also some fun historical examples where the earlier versions of English words were different than what we know today. Over time, after years of mishearing and repeating, the accepted standard English is now the mondegreen. Spit and image is now spitting image, Welsh rabbit is now Welsh rarebit, an ekename is now a nickname. And my absolute favorite: what we now call an orange was once A NARANJ. Which makes a whole lot more sense if you look at the etymology of that word.

I also love this quotation:

“No language, how simple soever, I think, can escape a child’s perversion. One said for years, in repeating the ‘Hail, Mary!’ ‘Blessed art thou, a monk swimming.’ Another, supposing that life was labour, I presume, ended his prayers with ‘forever endeavour, Amen.'”

-John B. Tabb, “Misconceptions.” The Academy, Oct. 28, 1899

Who knew the Kardashians could spark such a grammar lesson! (Though I have to admit, I’d really prefer it if someone (perfect world: Kanye or Brody Jenner) would tweet something at Khloe that included the word whirl-wind so she could have a moment of clarity and realize the mistake she’s been making her whole life. Cuz those moments are awesome. Legit, one of my (in her 60’s) co-workers realized the other day that she’d been saying cold-slaw instead of cole-slaw her whole life and it was awesome.)

Have you been guilty of any mondegreens in your past? SPILL! I promise not to judge. And what are YOUR biggest pet peeves? 

Top photo via here.


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