A mondegreen is a word or phrase derived from misunderstood song lyrics. It came from a song with the words, “…and laid him on the green,” which was interpreted to be “…and Lady Mondegreen.” I remember a joke I read when I was a kid describing a kid in Sunday School drawing a nativity scene with a roly-poly fellow standing off to the side. When the teacher inquired about him, the kid said it was “round John Virgin.”
So okay. I hardly know any Beatles lyrics, so I can’t appreciate the humor in this Soup to Nutz strip, but you probably do, so you probably will.
If you’re of a didactic bent, feel to translate these into the real lyrics for me in the comments.
Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed
If you’ve read more than about three articles on this site, you know that I promulgate expository writing, writing designed to convey information so readers absorb the information effortlessly. (Promulgate means to set forth or teach publicly, but you knew that, right?)
Sometimes idioms and figures of speech can be taken literally, and this generally doesn’t promote understanding. Here’s a Gasoline Alley; the first two rows give a humorous take on this danger.
(The last row repeats a joke that has to be more than 50 years old, but I digress.)
Rule of thumb: When you explain something, be direct and literal.
A related situation is when you write something that will or might be translated. Idioms and figures of speech are notorious for causing problems in other languages. This goes both ways, so be careful when you read something translated into English. Google “badly translated into English” to find some humorous examples, but this can be a serious problem if the writing is about a serious subject. So be careful.
When you listen to spoken language, if you misunderstand, often you can’t go back and re-hear it.
Besides not being able to re-listen to what you hear, sometimes the written form is just plain clearer than the spoken form. The fidelity of the instrument you’re listening on might be poor. Foreign accents can make someone hard to decipher even though the person’s written English is fine. (I get a lot of this from
headhunters technical recruiters whose first language is something besides English. My hearing problem doesn’t make it any easier, either. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking for an email, which I promise to respond to quickly.)
There’s another problem with spoken language that applies to about everyone. That’s when one word ends with the same sound that the next word begins with. Did you know that “share drive” is really “shared drive”? Say that pair aloud. They vary by only a couple hundredths of a second on that “d” in the middle, so it’s easy to miss. Some other combinations of sounds produce this effect, and that couple hundredths is the basis of today’s comic, The Lockhorns by Bunny Hoest and John Reiner. Sorry, I lost the link.
You probably have a few favorites of this kind of combinatorial problem (it’s called sandhi, by the way). I invite you to share in the comments.
Some time ago I posted a series about figures of speech, which I invite you to check out if you like. Recently I ran into another figure of speech, called paraprosdokian. It’s Greek for something like “given against and alongside.”
A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence is unexpected and oft times very humorous.
I got a list of them from a contributor to a motorcycle enthusiast list I belong to. (Thank you, Joe Dille, for sharing.) I’m sorry, I don’t know where he got the list.
Here are a few:
– If I had a dollar for every girl that found me unattractive, they’d eventually find me very attractive.
– A man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation toward the local swimming pool, so I gave him a glass of water.
– My wife and I were happy for twenty years; then we met.
– Hospitality is the art of making guests feel like they’re at home when you wish they were.
– Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.
– He who laughs last thinks slowest.
– Women sometimes make fools of men, but most guys are the do-it-yourself type.
– If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.
– Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let her sleep.
– Money is the root of all wealth.
If you’re brave, see if you can think up a few and share in the comments.
PS. Wouldn’t you know, I just ran into an example of paraprosdokian in a comic, Moderately Confused by Jeff Stahler: