Add in background music, back up vocalists, and instrumental, and it’s sometimes hard to hear the lyrics for what they truly are. This leads to misheard lyrics that are often hilarious.
When I was little I was sure that “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” by Cher didn’t go ‘We’d hear it from the people of the town. They’d call us gypsy’s, tramps, and thieves’ but instead went, “They’d call us Carrots, Stamps and peas”. I was always slightly confused at why carrots, stamps and peas were insulting names. I didn’t question it as a kid because it was a good song and what the heck did I know about making songs or about gypsies.
This is actually a fairly common occurrence. There’s a phenomenon called mondegreens, It means, “a word or phrase resulting from a mishearing of another word or phrase, especially in a song or poem”.
The phrase came from an American writer by the name of Slyvia Wright, and written about San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll. Mondegreen is inspired by a misheard line in a poem. She misheard “he laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen” from the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl o Moray”.
“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” comments Wright. This brought forward a vivid image of a beautiful and brave woman, a lady and she was rather disappointed that she wasn’t actually a character in the poem.
Although Wright coined the term fairly recently, people have been mishearing words for much much longer. Sigmund Freud explains that when we don’t really hear things properly, our mind hears things that we want to hear. With the earlier example, he would explain that I heard ‘Carrots, Stamps and peas’ instead of ‘gypsy’s, tramps, and thieves’ because I was hungry or wanted to make better eating choices.
Although as a kid, that seems less likely than what linguists think. Linguinsts don’t quite see it as so emotional. Instead, it’s more about how we process auditory stimulus.
University of Pennsylvania professor Mark Liberman explains, “There’s a piece of what we understand that comes from the sound that comes in our ear,” but “there’s a piece of what we understand that comes from [our] expectations.”
When we can’t quite hear what someone is saying, our brain guesses what it could possibly be. What does it sound like? What’s the context?
I’m not the only one to mishear lyrics and to sing the completely wrong lyrics. This has come to the internet in the most hilarious way.
What is your favorite misheard lyrics?!
Let me know what you think in the comments below!!
Melissa Mohr Correspondent. (2020, February 13). Hearing isn’t always believing with “mondegreens.” Christian Science Monitor, N.PAG.
Sylvia Wright, “The Death of Lady Mondegreen.” Harper’s, November 1954
The Ballad of Lady Mondegreen. (2014). Quadrant Magazine, 58(5), 60.