Almanac Humour: He’s Got The Whole World In His Pants – Mondegreens

 

He’s Got The Whole World In His Pants: Mondegreens

 

Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece for The Footy Almanac about half-remembered songs. In his comments about this post, Mark ‘Swish’ Schwerdt made use of a particularly interesting word: mondegreen. Wikipedia defines this word as ‘a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar and make some kind of sense.’ Examples I’ve come across in my reading include: ‘He’s got the whole world in his pants’ in connection with the folk song ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’, and the well-known ‘Hold me closer, Tony Danza’ when the last two words in the quote should be ‘Tiny Dancer’ in the Elton John/Bernie Taupin song of the same name.

 

A couple of personal examples of mondegreens: in ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’ for a long time I thought the line Neil Diamond sang was ‘Cracklin’ Rose, you’re a stalwart women’, not ‘Cracklin’ Rose, you’re a store bought woman’ and Australian Crawl’s ‘Beautiful People’, in which James Reyne sounded like he sang ‘Beautiful People – they’ve got a rubber politician in their travel bag’ not ‘Beautiful People – they’ve got a Robert Palmer T-shirt in their travel bag.’

 

Where does the word mondegreen come from? It certainly sounds strange and not of a readily identifiable origin. Wikipedia states: ‘American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, writing that as a girl, when her mother read to her from Percy’s Reliques, she had misheard the lyric “layd him on the green” in the fourth line of the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl of Murray” as “Lady Mondegreen”.’

 

J. A. Wines, in Mondegreens: A Book of Mishearings (2007), has written that mondegreens regularly occur because ‘… the English language is rich in homophones – words which may not be the same in origin, spelling or meaning, but which sound the same.’

 

So, over to you, Almanackers, what are your examples of mondegreens?

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.

Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    KD, I hate to admit it but early on I confused some words on ‘Like a Rolling Stone’! When Bob sings “How does it feel, how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home” I thought he was singing “How does it feel, how does it feel? To be on your own, ‘known to rich nor poor’. It took me a few years to correct the errors of my ways!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the example, Col. Yes, people do this kind of thing so often!

    And the rich/poor dichotomy does sound very Dylan!

  3. Richard Griffiths says

    The Doors–LA Woman. Was Morrison’s opening line “Well I got into town just an hour ago?” or “I took a little downer just an hour ago?”
    Hendrix-Purple Haze ‘scuze me while I kiss the sky’ or ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy.’

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Richard! Thanks for these. I know of the second mondegreen you mentioned, but the first is certainly new to me – just listened to the opening of The Doors’ ‘LA Woman’ (a couple of times) and have no idea what words Morrison is singing!

  5. I’m particularly fond of Creedence’s – ‘there’s a bathroom on the right’, at least that’s what I heard for years!

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Ha, Jim! That’s a particularly funny one.

    At least you didn’t come through the bathroom window, protected by a silver moon (or something)!

  7. How much more compelling would the Go-Gos’ “Our Lips Are Sealed” be if it was instead about Alex the Seal? An instructive narrative regarding a lonely seal going about his day, desperately seeking fish, swimming endlessly searching for a true mate, constantly avoiding being caught by theme park owners who want him for their new family-oriented and interactive show?

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Classic stuff, Mickey – I particularly love your narrative detail!

    And it’s interesting how some mondegreen examples (like, quite possibly, yours) are hard to ‘unhear’ once they’ve been given to you. Next time I listen to ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ it may well be a new experience for me!

  9. Paul Kelly’s “To Her Door” I always thought the bloke “went to his brothers, stayed about a year” after the missus kicked him out when he started up his drinking. Later in life I recognised that “he went to the Buttery” (a rehab).
    Words work either way but rehab is more effective if you want to get your life back together.

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Yes, PB, generally speaking, I suppose rehab would be more a effective solution than a brother’s house!

    That’s one key thing about the mondegreen, too – the misheard does make some kind of sense, even if in a really odd way.

  11. Kevin, I am not sure if you are aware, but the original Spicks n Specks had a “Mondegreens” segment.

    My brother-in-law would sing “Strangers in my wife, exchanging glances” rather than Sinatra’s “Strangers in the night…”

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Smokie – thanks for the comments. I never knew about the Spicks n Specks segment, but of course the show’s writers either consciously or unconsciously obtained the idea for the segment from a previous source – that’s the way of these things. And, interestingly, mondegreens are a subgroup in a quite extensive array of linguistic manglings, like malapropisms and spoonerisms.

    Finally, your brother-in-law’s ‘lyric’ conjures up some really odd imagery!

  13. Tommy Leonetti was an American Crooner who hosted a Tonight Show on ATN7 Sydney in the late 60’s. Sort of an early Don Lane prototype. Leonetti’s show was the basis for the parody Norman Gunston Show. Leonetti’s “My City of Sydney” was the closing credits for ATN7 each night for many years (remember the Epilogue and TV closing down overnight?)
    Leonetti dined out on a story of being booked for a gig and introducing himself to the promoter. “Nice to meet you Tommy. Where are Lee and Eddy? I thought I booked a trio.”
    Not quite a song lyric mondegreen – but the same principle.

  14. Kevin Densley says

    Certainly a mondegreen example, PB.

    And yes, I do remember Tommy Leonetti, who was on telly when I was a kid.

    Finally, neat cover by the XL Capris – as you’d probably recall from my ‘Australian Winter Songs’ post (and maybe already knew anyway), Johanna Pigott co-wrote the Dragon hit ‘Rain’ with Marc Hunter.

  15. Kevin Densley says

    Just an addition/correction … the Dragon song ‘Rain’ was written by Johanna Pigott, Todd Hunter and Marc Hunter.

  16. Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh sounds like The last train out of Sydneys almost gone. (I was sure it was train not plane).

  17. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Dan. Exactly – I used to think that was the Khe Sanh line, too. I’m sure many (maybe most) were in the same boat.

    Thanks for the contribution.

  18. Lucille Kenny Rogers

    I thought the line was
    “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, with four hundred children and a crop in the field”

    Turns out its four hungry children

  19. Kevin Densley says

    Ha, Rodney!

    Thanks for this one!

  20. Stephen Castieau says

    in Roger Miller’s King of the Road i thought destination Bangor Maine was destination banger’s lane.

  21. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Stephen!

    Oh dear!

    I’ve always had a high opinion of Roger Miller’s talent, incidentally.

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