Who is Lady Mondegreen?

Yes, even hearing loss can sometimes be funny.

The late, great Dr. Oliver Sachs was at his office one day when his assistant announced she was leaving work early to “go to choir practice.” Sachs said no problem, and wished her well. It was only after she left that he began to wonder.

He had known her for years and never once had she mentioned she enjoyed singing or that she was a member of a choir. He eventually realized that she had actually said she, “was going to the chiropractor’s”.

Mishearing a word or phrase is all too familiar to those of us like Dr. Sachs who have hearing loss. It’s also a classic mondegreen.

The term mondegreen is in fact itself a mondgreen. It originated with American writer Sylvia Wright in an essay she wrote in 1954 called “The Death of Lady Mondegreen”. In it, she reminisced:

“When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favourite poems began, as I remember:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,

And Lady Mondegreen.

However, the actual fourth line is “And laid him on the green”. There was no Lady Mondegreen dying nobly with her lover. But thanks to Wright she lives on as a term used to describe mishearings.

The term is often used to describe misheard song lyrics. One of the most famous examples is the song “Blinded by the Light” by Bruce Springsteen.  In a cover version by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band the line “revved up like a deuce” (a deuce being slang for a hot rod) is often misheard as “wrapped up like douche”.

Another widespread mondegreen song lyric can be traced to a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, “Bad Moon Rising”. The chorus contains the line “There’s a bad moon on the rise” which many people mishear as “There’s a bathroom on the right”.

And there’s Canada’s own Bryan Adams. His song “Summer of ‘69” contains a line often misheard as “ I got my first real sex dream”. Actually, instead of his first sex dream he got his “first real six string”.

Have you been tripped up by a mondegreen? Please use the comment section to send me yours.

For more on mondegreens, The New Yorker explains the science:

The Science of Mondegreens – The New Yorker

Leave a Reply