Share This Spectacular Vernacular
Freelance writer Sylvia Wright coined this word in an unusual way in a 1954 essay in Harper’s Magazine:
When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
Just one minor problem. The fourth line actually reads “And laid him on the green.” Wright was so enamored with her memory of the words that she declared:
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.
It’s taken a few decades, but mondegreen has now entered most dictionaries as a word or phrase that came from misheard words. Note that this isn’t the same as a parody—the intentional rewording—but rather results by accident, but still yields a logical result. I could point out many famous ones, but, since this is Christmas week, I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts.
No, Silent Night does not include a Round John Virgin. It would be inaccurate to say on the twelve days of Christmas that my tulip sent to me. And no matter how many jingling bells you might heard, saying bells on Bob’s tail ring isn’t quite right.
Feel free to leave your own in the comments and a Very Berry Christmas—whatever that is.