The ants are my friends

They’re blowing in the wind.

Mondegreens.  What a cool name for a mistake.

The term reportedly was coined in 1954, in Sylvia Wright’s “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” published in Harper’s Magazine.  In the essay Wright wrote that, as a child, she misheard a line in a ballad and subsequently sang “and Lady Mondegreen,” instead of “and laid him on the green.”

Ten years before there was a term for it, a novelty song based on the concept had listeners all over the world singing:   “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey.”

Humor columnist Dave Barry wrote occasionally about such matters.  I remember one in particular that appealed to my inner Sylvia Wright.  The song was “Help Me Rhonda.”  For those of the Beach Boys generation, stop and think; can you sing the first line?  Here’s a hint.  It begins with “Since you put me down…”  Barry felt compelled to point out that the second part is not, “there’ve been owls puking in my bed.” I am still not sure what the lyrics really are because the liner notes make no sense.  Puking owls make more sense.

There are plenty of other famous mondegreens:  CCR’s “there’s a bathroom on the right” and Jimi Hendrix’ “’scuse me while I kiss this guy.”  And everyone loves that favorite Christmas carol, “Deck the Halls with Buddy Holly.”

I had a friend in college who sang The Police’s “Canary in a Coal Mine,” as “Mary in a coma.”

Another told of her little brother singing “Cracklin’ Rosie peed on the floor.”

And who can’t name two mondegreens in the same line of Manfred Man’s “Blinded by the Light?”  Please keep those to yourselves, as this is a family blog.

Anyone have any clean ones?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Music

13 responses to “The ants are my friends

  1. dave

    The first one that springs to mind is the old hymn “Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear.” I believe “Louie, Louie” has generated more non-family-friendly mondegreens than can be counted.

  2. Jo

    Oooh, our family has a long list of these. In addition to the “bathroom on the right” — how nice that other people heard that, too! — Billy Joel’s “She’s got a way with flowers”… I thought he had the hots for a florist.

  3. Penny

    Groovin’: “That would be ecstasy–you and me and Leslie…”

  4. Matt

    Here’s a favorite of mine, “Jungle love, strawberry man, making me crazy..”

  5. Dennis Jones

    There must be an answer: leaded beads

  6. dave (again)

    Somewhat related are the stories and poems created by Robert Chase ( for examples), the entire text of each being a long mondegreen. The most famous of the stories is probably “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut,” which opens with:

    Wants pawn term dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

  7. Pat Abrams

    Please tell me what they are saying in “blinded by the light” I know what I think they have been saying but when I see you in person, please tell me.

  8. Emily Basca

    Early morning spin class provides another one but I will have to wait for that instructor again next week to find out the real song! “Measles got the music…music, music” is all I heard for about 20 seconds.

  9. Joe

    I like your thoughts on friendship. I’ve met the majority of my close, lifelong friends at college. It was super easy to make friends there because we were all living together and didn’t have too much going on in our lives.

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  13. Gail

    My dh was wondering why I was laughing and I showed him these mondegreens and he said I had a weird sense of humor. I pointed out that someone else had written these. Poor man has enough trouble untangling my daily spoonerisms. Perhaps you could write on those.

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