Mysterious Mondegreens: Examples of a Unique Phenomenon

Have you ever found yourself struggling to figure out the actual words to a song? Have you sometimes sung along to a tune for years before realizing you're using an incorrect phrase? If so, you've experienced mondegreen. This type of linguistic error occurs when someone mishears a phrase and concludes that it says something entirely different from the actual wording.

example mondegreen lyric blowin' in the wind bob dylan example mondegreen lyric blowin' in the wind bob dylan

Mondegreen Examples From Songs

Most mondegreens are inadvertent mishearings then subsequent misspeakings of song lyrics. It typically occurs due to the way certain words are enunciated in the context of a particular melody. There are numerous examples of mondegreens in all genres of music, with songs spanning multiple decades.

  • Africa - When Toto's lead singer croons, "bless the rains down in Africa," some listeners mistake the first few words for left my brains.
  • Away in a Manger - Even Christmas songs aren't immune to mondegreen. Instead of hearing "the cattle are lowing," some people incorrectly understand the lyric to say that they're lonely.
  • Blowin' in the Wind - Bob Dylan advises listeners, "the answer my friends, is blowin' in the wind," but not everyone hears it that way. Some perceive the first part of that line as saying the ants are my friends.
  • Bohemian Rhapsody - While this Queen song does have some nonsense words, the tune doesn't actually reference saving someone from warm sausage tea. Instead, Freddie Mercury sings "... spare him his life from this monstrosity," with a strong emphasis on each syllable.
  • Brass in Pocket - The Pretenders tell listeners, "I'm gonna use my sidestep," but not everyone hears the last word correctly. Some think they're saying sausage instead of sidestep.
  • Dancing Queen - Abba says to "feel the beat from the tambourine," though some listeners insist the singer croons the word tangerine instead.
  • Every Time You Go Away - People who hear meat instead of me when Paul Young sings "you take away a piece of me with you" must think the singer's freezer is being robbed.
  • Happy - When Pharell sings "happiness is the truth," some people think he's actually saying that "happiness is the zoo."
  • High on You - The words of this Survivor song reference "piercin' eyes like a raven," though listeners often mishear the song as saying glistening eyes.
  • I'm a Believer - After the Monkees croon, "then I saw her face, now" some think they follow up with "I'm gonna leave her." What they really say, though, is "I'm a believer."
  • Livin on a Prayer - Contrary to popular belief, Bon Jovi doesn't suggest nudity in this song. Some mishear the last part of "it doesn't really matter if we make it or not" as saying naked or not.
  • Losing My Religion - R.E.M. croons, "That's me in the corner. That's me in the spotlight." Many listeners mistake the word "me" for pee in both of these sentences.
  • Money for Nothing - Listeners often think this Dire Straits song references free chips, when the lyrics actually reference "money for nothing and your chicks for free."
  • Our Lips are Sealed - The Go-Gos sing about "the jealous games people play," but some people hear Dallas instead of jealous.
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit - In this Nirvana song, Kurt Cobain sings, "here we are now, entertain us," though some people interpret the last two words as in containers.
  • Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presly croons, "we're caught in a trap," but some listeners seem to think the last word is actually trout.
  • Drift Away - When Uncle Kracker sings, "Give me the beat boys and free my soul," it sounds a bit like he's saying Beach Boys.
  • Waterfalls - In this song, TLC advises readers, "don't go chasing waterfalls." though some readers think they're trying to keep someone named Jason Waterfalls from leaving.
  • We Found Love - When Rhianna sings "what it takes to come alive," some listeners mishear the end of the line as form a line instead of "come alive."
  • Rocket Man - The Elton John line "burning out his fuse up here alone" has been misheard many ways, including running out of fuel and heading home and burning up the trees on every lawn. Volkswagen even used this mondegreen in a commercial.

Mondegreen Origin

The term "mondegreen" is actually an example of the phenomenon described by the word. It doesn't otherwise have meaning. The origin, or etymology, of this term is linked to The Bonny Earl of Murray, which is an old Scottish ballad. This ballad included the phrase "laid him on the green." Upon hearing the poem read aloud, some audience members thought the poet was actually naming a person by the name of Lady Mondegreen. Thus, the name for this type of misinterpretation came into being.

More Everyday Linguistic Mistakes

Mondegreens aren't the only types of linguistic mistakes that occur as a result of misperception of what someone is saying or other forms of miscommunication. If you're interested in this topic, explore these eggcorn examples. If that's not enough, seek out some spoonerism examples. It's fun to explore the various ways language can be misused in an entertaining manner.

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