When I first moved to San Francisco, my roommate Wey Wey, who has the most beautiful voice ever, would play guitar and sing in our Mission apartment. Her singing was enchanting and I always felt totally blessed to be near her, but it was also unintentionally hysterical when she would mangle the words, especially to REM songs. (I mangle the words to songs all the time too, but it’s funnier when someone else does it). Now there’s a word for those crazy mishearings: a mondegreen. It’s a brand new word, or at least officially. The Merriam-Webster folks included it for the first time in their 2008 edition.
As John Murrell over at GMSV says, we all need to do our part for this newbie noun. I’m thinking it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to work it into casual conversation, so I vote instead for submitting your favorite mondegreen to the Merriam-Webster folks for their collection. I’d put Wey Wey’s in for her, except I can’t remember any of them. I realized recently (when I put my finger on a rotary dial phone) that I still remember my 4th grade best friend’s phone number (thanks, that’s really helpful), but I can’t recall the words that split my sides in the early nineties.
I sound old before my time, and let me make that impression worse by being even more nostalgic. As a word, mondegreen has arrived a bit late. The days when you learned the words to your favorite songs completely wrong are probably largely gone. Now we just look them up on the web. Yes, I realize people can still mishear lyrics and other spoken words, but the giant trove of absurd misquotes are the result of not being able to understand what the singer was saying, and just deciding to fill in the blanks, whether you knew it or not. I think the instant availability of the correct data has trained us not to bother coming up with alternatives; if it’s vague, just check it. Mondegreens: get ‘em while you can.