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Trivia Teaser

Who has NOT performed the Hank Williams song, "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)"?

Jerry Lee Lewis
Norah Jones
Dolly Parton
Harry Connick Jr



By Jessie

[SCENE: Jessie is driving the car. Beside her in the passenger seat is her loving partner and in the back are her three year old son and sister. The Pretenders song 'Brass in Pocket’ comes on the radio. It is a bright, sunny day, and Jessie is feeling a little sassy, so - loudly and joyously - she begins to sing along. Within a minute every person in the car is convulsing with mocking laughter…]

Partner: What did you just sing then?
Sister: Something about bees?
Partner: And biceps, I definitely heard BICEPS
Son: Mummy sings buzzy beeeeeeeees    
ALL: hee hee ahahaha AHA HAHAHA [wiping tears of mirth from their eyes]

OK, so I’m no stranger to a misheard lyric or two. The line "Got rhythm I can’t miss a beat" in that particular song does sound to me like "Got rid of my nest of bees", and I’ve always sung "Gonna use my biceps" instead of "Gonna use my sidestep" in the chorus but SO WHAT PEOPLE? It’s endearing! Besides, it’s not my fault Chrissie Hynde appears to have a mouth full of marbles half the time…

But did you know that mishearing or misinterpreting a phrase in such a way that a new meaning is implied has a name? The term ‘mondegreen’ was first coined by American writer Sylvia Wright in her essay 'The Death of Lady Mondegreen', published in Harper’s Magazine in 1954. In the essay, Wright described how as a young girl, she misheard the last line of the first stanza of the 17th-century ballad 'The Bonny Earl O’ Moray':

     Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
     Oh, where hae ye been?
     They hae slain the Earl O' Moray,
     And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual fourth line is "And laid him on the green". Wright explained the need for a new term "since no one else has thought up a word for them... and they are better than the original."

The existence of mondegreens is thought to relate to the idea of ‘cognitive dissonance’. Not being able to decipher words in our native tongue makes us feel uncomfortable, so we compensate by trying to fill in the ‘gaps’ in order to make sense of what we are hearing.

Many of the best-known mondegreens appear in popular music. Credence Clearwater Revival helpfully point out "There’s a bathroom on the right" in Bad Moon Rising and in the anthem Purple Haze Jimi Hendrix pleads "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy".

In Blinded by the Light, Mannfred Mann’s Earth Band incite endless confusion over the line 'wrapped up like a douche, you know the rumour in the night' ('Revved up like a deuce another runner in the night'). And the Christmas carol Jingle Bells reveals “Olive, the other reindeer” is a big meanie (“All of the other reindeer”).

The Go-Go’s famously sing about "Alex the Seal" (Our lips are sealed) while Pat Benetar hollers “Hit me with your pet shark” (Hit me with your best shot.) Hold me closer Tony DanzaElton John prefers 80s TV stars - “Hold me closer Tony Danza” (Hold me closer tiny dancer), and the Beatles are concerned when “The girl with colitis goes by” (The girl with kaleidoscope eyes).

But my particular favourites come from Led Zeppelin, who sing “And there’s a wino down the road – I should have stolen Oreos” (And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls) and Bachman Turner Overdrive’s rockin’ ditty "Makin’ carrot biscuits" (Taking Care of Business).

“Slow walking Walter, the fire engine guy” by Deep Purple is just funny (smoke on the water, fire in the sky), as is “You made the rice, I made the gravy” by Billy Joel (You may be right, I may be crazy).

Then there is the example of the ‘reverse mondegreen’ where nonsensical lyrics can be interpreted as rational text. Wikipedia offers the example of Mairzy Doats, a 1943 novelty song by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston:

     Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
     A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe

The clue to deciphering the mondegreen is contained in the bridge:

     If the words sound queer and funny to your ear,
     A little bit jumbled and jivey,
     Sing "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.

Have you stumbled over a mondegreen – or do you have a favourite misinterpreted song lyric?

Jessie x

World's Greatest Shave

This week, Lovatts staff held a morning tea to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation. Many had their heads shaved or hair coloured to help support a member of our team who has recently been diagnosed with this disease. You can watch the video here - look out for the Lovatts CEO sporting a fetching mohawk!

Video: Dominic Lovatt 

31 Responses to


March 07, 2013 at 10:15 PM

How me right there on my teepee! Ok later I discover it's Horror movie right there on my TV. I have no idea of the rest of the words but it sounds fun! As a lymphoma patient my late husband benefitted from the Leukaemia foundation when he had to travel for treatment. Well done Lovatts staff and best wishes to the member supported.

March 08, 2013 at 12:16 AM

Not that I'm old or anything, but I remember that song: "Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey A kiddley divey too, wooden shoe", and thought I was very clever to know what it really meant. There was another one "My friend the witch doctor he taught me what to say. He said "Oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla bing-bang" etc. Why do I remember the nonsense songs? I suppose they were entertaining to a child. I hope it doesn't mean I was retarded, though come to think of it, I can't sing a note in tune.

Laroo_62 said:
March 08, 2013 at 6:26 AM

A friend of mine's partner thought that the Cold Chisel song Cheap Wine was sung as "Cheap wine and a three legged goat" but really it's "Cheap wine and a three day growth". When I hear the song on the radio I now sing it as three legged goat.

March 08, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Yep..for quite a while I thought Lady Gaga was singing "he don't need my cold cafe" for "he can't read my poker face."

grs said:
March 08, 2013 at 10:42 AM

How about the old Sunday School favoutite "He will make you vicious old men" "....fishers of men" And of course the "nine stone cowboy".

foxylox said:
March 08, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Tears of laughter have been streaming down my face reading these interpretations. Great fun, and although nothing in particular springs to mind at the moment, I recognize the majority of tunes to which I also have been a culprit. Hilarious topic, well done!

Catchpat said:
March 08, 2013 at 11:19 AM

Not really a mondegreen, but my husband, who is partially deaf, always called Saddam Hussain Sad and Insane.

daffydill said:
March 08, 2013 at 4:03 PM

It was many years after she first heard the "Doh Ray Me" song from Sound of Music, that my daughter (now nearing middle age) was embarrassed to discover that the words she thought were 'Tea, a drink with German bread' were actually, 'Tea, a drink with jam and bread.' And, of course, we continue to tease her about it.

March 08, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Someone please tell me I have these lyrics wrong, 'Someone left the cake out in the rain, and I'll never have that recipe agaain.'

Minxie said:
March 08, 2013 at 7:28 PM

No Jafa - you are quite right - the song is MacArthur's Park ... MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark - All the sweet, green icing flowing down - Someone left the cake out in the rain - I don't think that I can take it - 'cause it took so long to bake it - And I'll never have that recipe again ... great song! Mondegreen's are only funny if someone else is doing the singing and you are doing the laughing :)

March 08, 2013 at 9:02 PM

agree there min thanks jess for the good read and brooke all the best you have a great support team with the girls and boys you work with if you want to chat anytime we are here

March 08, 2013 at 11:50 PM

Let's not forget Round John Virgin from the first verse of Silent Night (round yon virgin).

pantera said:
March 09, 2013 at 6:16 AM

I love mondegreens, but Minxie has a point, its no fun when you are singing and have no idea what you are actually saying. I find it simply frustrating. But its sometimes fun to make up your own words. Unfortunately some words in songs these days makes you wish they were mondegreens.

Mo said:
March 09, 2013 at 8:27 AM

Gentle Jesus meek and mild................... Pity mice in Plicity

Mo said:
March 09, 2013 at 8:29 AM

Then there are the words that you can't be sure you've heard right. "Every finger a fid" in a shany a what??

Mo said:
March 09, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Sorry - "Every finger a fid" in a shanty -every finger a what??

dj1 said:
March 09, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Two I remember from my childhood are the hymn "Gladly, my cross-eyed bear", and Song of Australia: "There is a land where summer skies/Are gleaming with a thousand eyes." And later in the song: "And all above is Asia bright".

Catchpat said:
March 09, 2013 at 11:09 AM

We used to sing in Hark The Herald Angels Sing "God and singers reconciled". Mum used to tell us that the way we sang God had done a really miraculous job!

Muffy said:
March 09, 2013 at 1:25 PM

Benny, of Benny and the Jets, "has elecric boots, a mohair suit, you know I HEARD IT FROM A PAKISTANI COWBOY"! I think it is actually "I read it in a magazine."

March 09, 2013 at 1:37 PM

Two I have always misheard have to be Creedence's Proud Mary "Left uncle Joe in the city' and Elvis' Jailhouse Rock "Sure would be delighted with your pumpin' knee"

Jf said:
March 09, 2013 at 6:16 PM

(Many years ago) my daughter said "that song's about me!" The line was "angel-eyed baby" which she heard as "a July baby".

grantdood said:
March 09, 2013 at 10:49 PM

In North to Alaska, Johnny Horton sings 'to Russia's Zone' (the rush is on). Made sense, Alaska was Russian at one stag.

joey01 said:
March 10, 2013 at 1:48 AM

Eagle is not a dirty bird! : P (Ego is not a dirty word) All we need is a great big American Pot-(a great big melting pot).Suzi Q's Diggleby Drive- (Devil Gate Drive) Football, meatpies, Kangaroos AND OLD GALAHS! Sorry!

elmo7 said:
March 10, 2013 at 8:44 AM

Ha ha ha @ "Eagle is not a dirty bird"

March 10, 2013 at 9:17 AM

Standing next to different children as they sing our national anthem (Advance Australia Fair) frequently brings tears to the eyes as you try hard not to laugh at their many Mondegreens.

supamum said:
March 11, 2013 at 10:08 AM

I spent many years singing 'I believe in Milko' to Hot Chocolate's 'I believe in miracles'!

March 11, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Lol supamum. Was listening to that song for the first time just a couple of nights ago,and thought the same as you! I only realised that it was miracles because Milko didn't make sense!

March 11, 2013 at 4:14 PM

The Stranglers song... Skin Deep I always get wrong. I always sing the words better watch out for the scoonyee in the chorus......instead of you better watch out for the Skin Deep and my mother in law tells me she used to say. Alfalfa who art in heaven when reciting the Lords Prayer.

mbn1527 said:
March 11, 2013 at 4:33 PM

Yes Jafa. The best I heard (pretty common I think) is the opening line: "Australians all eat ostriches" (. . . let us rejoice).

H4405 said:
March 11, 2013 at 5:01 PM

I still recall the young boy at Sunday School,who when reciting the Lords Prayer always said Our Father who art in heaven Harold be thy name.

beilkenv said:
March 12, 2013 at 10:28 PM

I used to have a nextdoor neighbour with a daughter who used to sit on the letterbox and sing I have 400 children and a crop in the field, you picked a fine time to leave me lucille. I still think after 400 kids lucille had a right to leave. Still gets a laugh at our place

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