Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The word of the week

Nearly every day I come across an unusual word. Often it's one I have read but never heard pronounced; other times, it's a completely new-to-me word. My friend Norman is sometimes the source of this rich vocabulary -- he's the type of guy who routinely sprinkles gems such as inchoate, bifurcation, inter alia, and esuriently throughout his conversation and emails. Often, though, it's simply an arresting new term I come across in something I'm reading. And I do mean arresting: if the word is special enough, it will stop my reading dead in its tracks while I look up the definition and savor the sound and the mouthfeel of my new verbal acquisition.

This week's prized new word is MONDEGREEN. According to The American Heritage Dictionary (my favorite dictionary -- you should check it out), a mondegreen is "a series of words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement or song lyric." I came across this term in a delightful new book I am reading, June Casagrande's Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs -- Even If You're Right. You cannot buy this book right now because it hasn't yet been published. (I, of course, have My Sources. Sorry.) But if you enjoy reading about words and language, I highly recommend you pick up a copy when it comes out next month. It's great fun.

Ms. Casagrande's example of a mondegreen is using "for all intensive purposes" instead of the correct "for all intents and purposes." I laughed at the idiocy of that, until I started thinking about all the song lyrics I've misheard over the years. One that springs immediately to mind occurs in the Beatles' song "And I Love Her." The actual lyrics are, "She gives me ev'rything and tenderly," but for years I heard, "She gives me ev'rything internally." I know the Fab Four kinda got into the whole drug scene in the 1960s, so I guess I just imagined some cute hippie chick shooting Paul up. It made sense at the time. It still makes sense, and yet I've learned that I'm wrong.

Any mondegreens you've picked up along the way? Any shame-filled stories of how you learned of your error?


Trooperdog said...

Wow...I had no idea that the correct phrase is "for all intents and purposes". I've been using the wrong phrase for over 30 years! That's scary.

My friend in college had no idea about the correct words to Prince's song, "I Would Die For You". He literally thought it was, "Apple, Dapple, You." Now THAT's pathetic!

Sean said...

A few of my favorites from popular song are:

Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away" lyrics are "He's dancing with the chick in slacks," but it's impossible not to hear "He's dancin' with the chicken slacks." Man I want a pair of them.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty sings "There's a bad moon on the rise," and I can't help but think about "There's a bathroom on the right."

I think my all time favorite is from our dear friend Paulette, who
listened to John Travolta singing "You're the One That I Want" in Grease, and instead of the opening lines "I got chills/They're multiplyin', " she
heard "I got shoes/They're made o' plywood." Awesome.