During a gathering at my house not too long ago, my sister Laura mentioned how as a kid she often wondered what a “donzerly” light looked like, having always heard the first line of our national anthem as “Oh say can you see, by the donzerly light…”
“I always imagined it to be some sort of amazingly beautiful kind of illumination,” she told us, “and I was so disappointed when I learned the truth about the lyric.”
Misheard lyrics are officially called “mondegreens,” the term having been coined by American writer Sylvia Wright in 1954 after mishearing the line “layd him on the green” from an English poem as “Lady Mondegreen.” The most famous mondegreen of my generation, of course, is the Jimi Hendrix line “s’cuz me while I kiss the sky” being heard as, “s’cuz me while I kiss this guy.”
After Laura told us her story, this got the rest of us talking about our own misheard lyrics. My niece Renée said she was always confused and disturbed as a child by the Manfred Mann line “I’m hurt, she’s mad, wedding bells are gonna chime.” “It just didn’t make any sense!” she said. “Why would they get married if that were the case?”
My wife Robin’s favorite mondegreen is the Young Rascals’ lyric, “…you and me and Leslie” (aka “you and me endlessly”). And once she met me, that lyric became what Robin would sing to our dog, Ziggy, and it eventually became “our song”—because, let’s face it; this is a far better lyric than the original, right?
My friend and fellow mystery author Jane Lasswell Hoff had this to add to our list, from “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: “you’ll go down and kiss Dory.” Why? she wondered? And who is this Dory character? (Cleary the makers of Finding Nemo missed a big chance here.)
Adding to her mishearing of patriotic lines, Laura told us she also was always confused as a kid as to why on earth we were pledging allegiance to the Republic of Wichistan. Is that a place in Eastern Europe? And why do we care so much about them?
Okay, readers, now it’s your turn: What lyrics or lines have you misheard over the years?