Definition: Noun. A misheard or misinterpreted lyric from a song (or infrequently, a line of poetry) that yields new meaning.
Related words: soramimi, animutation, Buffalaxed, Benny Lava
Etymology: The word was coined by Slyvia Wright in November 1954 in an article she wrote for Harper’s Magazine titled, “The Death of Lady Mondegreen.” In the article, Wright explains that as a child her mother often read to her from Percy’s Reliques — specifically the ballad “The Bonny Earl O’Moray.” The last line of the ballad reads “And laid him on the green,” which Wright mistakenly heard as “And Lady Mondegreen.” Wright coined a word as a tribute to that childhood memory: “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.” Cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker might argue about that last part of Wright’s observation, noting that mondegreens “are generally less plausible than the intended lyrics.”
The most famous mondegreen is attributed to the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band version of “Blinded by the Light” which has the lyric “Blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night” that is almost always misheard as “wrapped up like a douche, another runner in the night.” Another popular mondegreen is a line from Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” that has the lyric “There’s a bad moon on the rise” that is misheard as “There’s a bathroom on the right.” Another well-known mondegreen is Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” that includes the lyric “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” that is misheard as “”Scuse me while kiss this guy.” Christmas music is not immune: everyone knows about “Olive the other reindeer” from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (the actual lyric is: “All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.”)
For further reading: When A Man Loves A Walnut and Even More Misheard Lyrics by Gavin Edwards, Fireside (1997).
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, William Morrow (1994).
Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable by John Ayto and Ian Crafton, W&N (2006).