You’re a what with a glove? Or, pardon my mondegreen

We have all heard them—or misheard them: “There’s a bathroom on the right” (for “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” from “Bad Moon Rising,” by Creedence Clearwater Revival); “Might as well face it, you’re a dick with a glove” (for “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love,” from “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer); and perhaps the most famous of all, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy,” (for “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky,” from “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix). That last mishearing was so prevalent, legend has it that Jimi himself would occasionally stop and kiss a guy after singing this line in concert. If you have ever wondered what these mishearings are called, now you know: they’re mondegreens. According to William Safire of The New York Times, the term mondegreen dates from a 1954 magazine article by Sylvia Wright in which she said she had misheard the folk lyric “and laid him on the green” as “and Lady Mondegreen.”

To show that you may not be alone in this, the website Kiss This Guy (www.kissthisguy.com) has listed more than 1,300 misheard lyrics have been submitted by Web visitors to their archive. The name of the site is taken from the aforesaid Hendrix song. Another popular ditty, which offended a woman I knew to no end, was in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cover of Bruce Springsteen’s song “Blinded by the Light.” Chances are that you too may have misheard the lyric “revved up like a deuce” (altered from Springsteen’s original “cut loose like a deuce”) as wrapped up like a douche.” Both lyrics, by the way, refer to the hot rodders slang for a 1932 Ford coupé. Springsteen has even joked about the phenomenon, claiming that it was not until Manfred Mann rewrote it to be about a feminine hygiene product that the song became popular.

Some other mondegreens listed on the website include “Take your pants down, and make it happen” (for “Take your passion and make it happen,” from “Flashdance” by Irene Cara); “Every time you go away/you take a piece of meat with you” (for “…take a piece of me with you,” from “Every Time You Go Away” by Paul Young); “Let’s pee in the corner. Let’s pee in the spotlight,” (for “That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight,” from “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.); and “My anus is the center hole” (from “My angel is a centerfold” by J. Geils Band.

Meanwhile, the 1963 song “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen was so difficult to understand, because of how poorly the Kingsmen’s version of it was recorded, that many people suspected the song contained obscenities. One concerned parent misheard the lines from the verse “Me see Jamaica moon above./It won’t be long me see me love./Me take her in my arms and then/I tell her I never leave again.” as “She had a rag on, she moved above./It won’t be long, she’ll slip it off./I held her in my arms and then,/and I told her I’d rather lay her again.” The woman actually sent a formal complaint to the FBI. Since no lyrics were ever officially published for the song, the FBI concluded that the lyrics were unintelligible—but only after two years of investigation!

Interestingly, a survey at Kiss This Guy found that 77 percent of those who had submitted mondegreens believed their versions were better than the originals, and 40 percent said they had convinced others that their lyrics were the correct ones. Even Steven Pinker has gotten into the act, so to speak. He observed that while mondegreen mishearings tend to be less plausible than the original lyrics, once a listener has tuned into to a particular interpretation of a song’s lyrics, it can remain unquestioned. Pinker gives the example of a student who stubbornly misheard the chorus to “I’m Your Venus” as “I’m your penis,” and being surprised that the song was allowed on the radio. Pinker should have told him to put it in a glove.

13 thoughts on “You’re a what with a glove? Or, pardon my mondegreen

  1. Stan Carey April 20, 2015 / 7:21 pm

    I love mondegreens, and some of these are completely new to me. An old favourite that seems to belong here (and which I included in a mondegreens post at Macmillan Dictionary a few months ago) is from a classic Roy Orbison song: ‘I drove all night, crapped in your room.’

    Like

  2. sesquiotic April 20, 2015 / 7:57 pm

    My dad once turned off the car radio, exclaiming “That’s out of line!”, during “Play that Funky Music, White Boy” – thinking it was “play that fucking music,” of course.

    Joel Veitch of rathergood.com has several brief clips of deliberately misheard lyrics: http://rathergood.com/Rathergood_Stuff/lyrics/ . For instance, Destiny’s Child seems to depend on meat http://rathergood.com/alf … and if you want to feel a badger… http://rathergood.com/badger

    Liked by 1 person

    • rossmurray1 April 21, 2015 / 3:22 pm

      I would suspect that “funky” was often used with a knowing wink. Still is, eh Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars?

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  3. Lady Demelza April 20, 2015 / 8:17 pm

    My favourite mondegreen of all time is ‘uncontrolled euthanasia/ gonna make those fools understand’ for ‘uncontrolled youth in Asia/ gonna make those fools understand’ in Cold Chisel’s Star Hotel. It might not be a profanity, but it definitely touches those ‘taboo’ buttons. I am meaning to make myself a t-shirt that says ‘uncontrolled euthanasia.’ I’m already a bit nervous about the reactions I might get wearing such a thing, but I still want it.

    Like

  4. Incidental Scribe April 20, 2015 / 9:20 pm

    Hilarious and thought provoking as always. I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award. Details will be posted on my blog later today. Congrats and keep up the good work.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. rossmurray1 April 21, 2015 / 3:23 pm

    So many. My wife, though, was convinced it was “I shot the sheriff / but I did not shoot the dead beauty.”

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  6. Jennifer Gilbreath April 21, 2015 / 5:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Red Ink Ramblings and commented:
    “There’s a bathroom on the right” (mentioned below) and “The lid is up where it belongs” (for “Love lifts us up where we belong”) were always my favorites.

    Like

  7. Spottedcloud April 21, 2015 / 9:23 pm

    My mother somehow managed to turn “I feel invincible with my headphones on” into “I feel invisible when my head falls off”

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  8. Chris Henrich April 22, 2015 / 4:57 pm

    Classical music is also good for mondegreens, some of which get into print and then become column fillers in The New Yorker:

    He has appeared on the opera stage in “Tosca,” “Deflator Mouse,” and “Carmen.” (New Yorker comment: He can really let the air out.)

    Similarly: Dief Ledermaus – which almost makes sense in German (deep leather-mouse).

    And then there was Big Spider Beck. (NY: the black widow of jazz.)

    Like

  9. Chips Mackinolty April 27, 2015 / 5:25 pm

    Australia’s former national anthem, God save the Queen, has the line “Send her victorious” which, coming from another state of the nation, we always sang as “Send her to Victoria”. Nascent republicanism?

    Like

  10. Dust. Wind. Bun. (@dustwindbun) May 15, 2015 / 10:16 pm

    It’s not sweary or even controversial, but my boyfriend’s best friend and I both say that in the Yes song “Roundabout”, it’s way better (and closer to what we hear) if “marmots come out of the sky / and they stand there” instead of “mountains”. I mean, it’s Yes, how is that any weirder than what they already come up with? I think we mostly do it just to watch his Yes-loving brain overheat. (It’s like I told him once, I’m convinced that any time I listen to “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, no matter where he is, he cringes and doesn’t know why.)

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  11. Fred Correa August 17, 2017 / 11:33 pm

    I always benefitted from listening to the greatest popular international hits to improve my listening comprehension in a number of languages I have studied – and still improving my skills on.

    At very last, I myself managed to transcribe these hard-to-get lyrics by The King, totally by-ear.

    They’re as follows:

    Detour to hacienda
    Detour to hacienda
    Why, gay, why let her do the pose men
    Input it ain’t a sec
    Bride in eerie knacks moaning
    He broad my leather Beck
    She rode a body
    Detour to hacienda
    Undress a nun
    Nun sucks mamba
    Nun sucks sole
    Jihad acquired a lower’s pet
    I’m right, my sore butt Milady keeps cumming bad
    Sad end I dropped mud in the male bucks
    Incense is paid so tea
    Bride in eerie knacks moaning
    A cane write back two me
    She rode a body
    Detour to hacienda
    Undress a nun
    Nun sucks poison
    Nun sucks sole
    Taste tiny gowns attacking my cells
    End pudding rye dinner hen
    End yiffy cons bag defer INXS day
    Denial on their stand – deride Winona
    Detour to hacienda
    Undress a nun
    Nun sucks mamba
    Nun sucks zoo
    Detour to hacienda
    Detour to hacienda
    Detour to hacienda

    Okay, it is a farce “mondegreen”, one of my own perpetration,
    but I thought it would amuse those among you who dared reading it.
    Good thing The King isn’t here to see this.
    There’s more where this one came from.

    Love,

    FC

    Like

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