Definition and Examples of Mondegreens

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Group of children singing in school

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A mondegreen is a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement or song lyric. Mondegreens are also known as oronyms.

The term mondegreen was coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright and was popularized by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll. The term was inspired by "Lady Mondegreen," a misinterpretation of the line "And laid him on the green" from the Scottish ballad "The Bonny Earl o' Moray."

According to J. A. Wines, mondegreens often 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" (Mondegreens: A Book of Mishearings, 2007).

Examples of Mondegreens

"The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original."
(Sylvia Wright, "The Death of Lady Mondegreen." Harper's, November 1954)

  • "Every time you go away/you take a piece of meat with you" (for " ... take a piece of me with you," from the Paul Young song "Every Time You Go Away")
  • "I led the pigeons to the flag" (for "I pledge allegiance to the flag")
  • "There's a bathroom on the right" (for "There's a bad moon on the rise" in "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  • "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" (for the Jimi Hendrix lyric "Excuse me while I kiss the sky")
  • "The ants are my friends" (for "The answer, my friend" in "Blowing in the Wind" by Bob Dylan)
  • I’ll never leave your pizza burning" (for "I’ll never be your beast of burden" by the Rolling Stones)
  • "The girl with colitis goes by" (for "the girl with kaleidoscope eyes" in "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles)
  • "Dr. Laura, you pickled man-thief" (for the Tom Waits lyric "doctor, lawyer, beggar-man, thief")
  • "the bright blessed day and the dog said goodnight" (for "the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night" in "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong)
  • "The girl from Emphysema goes walking" (for "The girl from Ipanema goes walking" in "The Girl from Ipanema," as performed by Astrud Gilberto)
  • "America! America! God is Chef Boyardee" (for "God shed His grace on thee" in "America, the Beautiful")
  • "You’re the cheese to my pizza mine" (for “You’re the key to my peace of mind" from Carol King's "Natural Woman")
  • "In love, as in life, one misheard word can be tremendously important. If you tell someone you love them, for instance, you must be absolutely certain that they have replied 'I love you back' and not 'I love your back' before you continue the conversation." (Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid. HarperCollins, 2007)

Historical Mondegreens

The following mondegreens give historical context to changes that can occur to words over time.

Earlier / Later
1. an ewt (salamander) / a newt
2. an ekename (additional name) / a nickname
3. for then anes (for the once) / for the nonce
4. an otch / a notch
5. a naranj / an orange
6. another meal / a whole nother meal
7. a nouche (brooch) / an ouche
8. a napron / an apron
9. a naddre (type of snake) / an adder
10. would have done / would of done
11. spit and image / spitting image
12. sam-blind (half-blind) / sand blind
13. a let ball (in tennis) / a net ball
14. Welsh rabbit / Welsh rarebit

(W. Cowan and J. Rakusan, Source Book for Linguistics. John Benjamins, 1998)

Children, in mishearing phrases, have created some memorable mondegreens.

"A little girl with whom I am acquainted recently asked her mother what a 'consecrated cross-eye bear' was; the explanation of her query being that she had been learning (orally) a hymn commencing: 'A consecrated cross I bear.'"

(Ward Muir, "Misconceptions." The Academy, Sep. 30, 1899)

"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)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Mondegreens." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Definition and Examples of Mondegreens. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Mondegreens." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).