What are mondegreens? And why they merit more than a chuckle

Wright1957 (dragged)All her life, writer Sylvia Wright had known a sad Scottish ballad that included the line:

  • They have slain the Earl Amurray, and Lady Mondegreen.

Imagine her surprise when she discovered the real words were:

  • They have slain the Earl of Moray, and laid him on the green.

Her fascination led her to coin the term ‘mondegreen’ for this kind of funny mis-hearings (though actually most mondegreens are far funnier than this one!).

Thanks to publicity from avid mondegreen collector, Jon Carroll, the word is now widely used for any humorously mis-heard song lyrics.

At Rethink Speech, we pay a lot of attention to mondegreens – and not just for their humour. We hope you too have been learning to appreciate them, and enjoy the fruits of observing your own echoic memory.


The REALLY funny thing about mondegreens

Lurking in the silly humour of mondegreens lie massive implications for our understanding of speech and how it works. For one thing, mondegreens show clearly that much of our society’s common knowledge about speech, embodied in the c-a-t theory is wrong.

The funny thing is, however, hardly anyone notices this. Most just give a chuckle, and carry right on believing in the same old false beliefs of common knowledge.

Not only that – mondegreens hold the keys to a genuinely new way of thinking about speech, with the potential to replace the c-a-t theory as a useful Everyday Theory of Speech (ETS).

But wait, there’s more!

Mondegreens also hold the keys to a genuinely new and useful way of thinking about the world in general, and ourselves in particular.

Think that’s a big claim? Stick with us!