Everything I know about English, I learned from Mick Jagger.
Da-dah da-da-dah da-dah-da-dah-da (repeat)
In the summer of 1965, all of us kids would jump up and play air guitar as soon as we heard that riff on the radio:
I can’t get no satisfaction,
I can’t get no girl with action.
cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
Satisfaction —Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction,” from Out of Our Heads
The authorities went into a tizzy over that song. It’s always hard to tell exactly what Jagger is saying when he sings, a consequence of his accent and mouth-full-of-marbles vocal style. But as soon as our school principal heard the words “satisfaction” and “girl” in the same verse, Jagger was banned from our school jukebox.
My English teacher was appalled by the grammar. Double negatives!? My stars! Can there be any greater sin than using a double negative!? Except for a dangling, split pluperfect, of course.
Ms. Brezkowicz insisted on improving Jagger’s lyrics thusly:
I cannot obtain any satisfaction,
I have yet to develop a relationship with a young woman-of-action.
Indeed I have tried, repeatedly.
I cannot obtain any, I cannot obtain any, I cannot obtain any,
She later went on to write for Barry Manilow.
Rock and roll lyrics have always been notoriously difficult to understand. Heavy drug use in recording studios is one factor. A failure to complete high school may be another.
The Iron Butterfly classic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is said to have started out as “In the Garden of Eden,” until an alcohol-soaked recording session made the words unintelligible.
Sometimes, strange-sounding lyrics morph into something even stranger in our brains. These mental disconnects are called mondegreens.
I can remember listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising in high school:
I see a bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin’.
I see bad times today.
Don’t go around tonight
Well it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise.
But that’s not what I heard. Somehow I convinced myself that the last line of the chorus was actually there’s a bathroom on the right.
Why CCR would be singing about where to find the outhouse I couldn’t fathom, but it never occurred to me that I might have misunderstood the lyrics.
The word “mondegreen” was coined by Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Atlantic article. It came from her experience learning a traditional Scottish song called “The Bonny Earl of Murray.” Here is how she remembered the lyrics:
Ye highlands and ye lowlands
Oh where have you been?
They have slain the Earl of Murray
And Lady Mondegreen.
It seemed to her quite touching that the Earl and his love should die together.
Many years later, she realized to her chagrin that the final stanza of that ballad was actually:
They have slain the Earl of Murray
And laid him on the green.
My blog name is based on a mondegreen. Growing up, my family frequently said, “If you think you’re going to do X, you’ve got another thing coming.” Sometime in 2002, I saw the expression written: “…another think coming.” Scales fell from my eyes. Think! Of course! Another think! How could I have misunderstood something so obvious?
We see similar errors written all the time:
- That’s a mute point.
- Don’t take him for granite.
- For all intensive purposes.
- Bob wire fences.
One of my favorite bumper stickers plays off of the same phenomenon: Visualize Whirled Peas.
Heard any good mondegreens lately?
Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” is frequently misheard as “Slow-motion Walter, the fire-engine guy.” About a year ago, I was listening to the album Maroon, in which Bare Naked Ladies actually use this misheard lyric as a real lyric. I laughed. I cried. I was moved.
In other news, growing up, there was a local car dealer who ran a series of commercials (see MyDogSpot.com) in which Cal Worthington, the leader/owner/figurehead/something would appear, slashing prices and hanging with some sort of beastie (tiger, bear, ostrich, etc.). The commercial would feature the company jingle that included the refrain: “If you need a car or truck, if you wanna save a buck, if you wanna change your luck – Pussy Cow, Pussy Cow, Pussy Cow!”
Strange, I thought, But he was up there featuring a tiger that he called a dog. If he really wants to call out this cat/cow thing, that’s his business.
Of course, years later I discovered that the jingle much more sensibly declared that we should “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal!”
You can hear a recording of said cat/cow reference here: Go See Cal
A friend from high school said she always misunderstood Jimi Hendrix in Purple Haze as saying â€œexcuse me while I kiss this guyâ€ instead of â€œexcuse me while I kiss the sky.â€ This one and many others appear at Fun-With-Words.
Many years ago my husband wrote a worship song which was a favorite of the young daughter of friends of ours.
One line read – let HIM make us one – which this little girl heard as – let HIM make a swan.
She was forever asking to hear the “Swan song”
We spent a good deal of time trying to figure out which song she was referring to until one day in church when she jumped up and said loudly “this is my Swan song”. Problem solved and a good time was had by all…..
I like your blog, Charlie. The emphasis on language is fun and something I need to get better at. Thanks.
She later went on to write for Barry Manilow.
That is so funny, and I’m trying to figure out if you’re serious. 🙂
I always hear: “and you’re looking for the answer in Orion,” in “The Things We Do for Love.”
Like walking in the rain and the snow when there’s nowhere to go
When you’re feeling like a part of you is dying
And you’re looking for the answer in her eyes
You think you’re gonna break up
Then she says she wants to make up
That is SO funny. “Indeed I have tried repeatedly!” It reminds me of an old movie with Whoopi Goldberg called “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” She’s trying to decipher a code she thinks is hidden in the lyrics of that song. “I was born in a crossfire hurricane…Mick…Mick! Speak ENGLISH!”
Did I miss the most obvious Rolling Stones malspeak?
The lyrics were:
Listen closely as Mick sings-
You be the judge…
I went over 30 years thinking Sam Cook’s lyrics in Twisting the Night Away were:
Dancing with the chicken slacks. I would even ask people what chicken slacks were. Later, I was infomed that they were actually “Dancing with the chick in slacks”
All I see, pass before my eyes like a colostomy
from “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas c.1978)
favorites come to mind.
“Do you like green enchiladas?” – My buddy Darren mangling the Pina Colada song on the school bus.
I used to work at a newspaper. A funeral director called in an obituary and reached a new employee. “Mass of Christian burial” ran as “massive Christian burial.”
I used to think “roam if you want to” was “Roam Nipsy Russell”. Roam around the world! Who knows?
And “crossfire hurricane” is “Class 5 hurricane”
Just found your blog. Love it. When I was growing up, I used to sing “Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse soap and sleigh.”
My daughter had us laughing to the point of tears with the classic Fleetwood Mac lyrics…”when the rain washes…you’ll clean your nose.”
My all time favorite…LOL
I had a lot of laughs with your blog…
I was looking out for something about Whirld Peas
on google after I saw a sticker on a car and then
I found this site!!!
great comments and great stuff you gathered!!
Keep ’em coming..
Hello from BRAZIL!!
My young daughter asked why this guy on the radio was singing to his penis…I nearly choked laughing so hard.
It was, of course, Venus by Frankie Avalon.
An old girlfriend loved the U2 song “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” probably because she heard “I Still Haven’t Found a Good Liquor Store”
Then, there’s the George Harrison classic “Wake up, I might sit on you!” (I got my mind set on you.)
This list goes on and on.
But, I’m looking for more about the Whirled Peas. I saw a bumper sticker years ago but it had *two* such mondegreens. Visualize Whirled Peas and…. can’t remember. Does any one else remember?
It is: “Stop the violins. Visualize Whirled Peas!”
Whirled Peas=World Peace.
what about the thing Jack Nicholson and Candice Bergen presented in the movie “Carnal Knowledge”…
she suggests they sing that wonderful church hymn about “‘Gladly’- the Cross-Eyed Bear…”
from march on christian soldiers….
really? its Another think coming ??? what about that song… ? its not thing?? must google…
I have always known these mondegreens as “malapropisms”
the one that I know of which I didnt see already listed was from “blowing in the wind”
the lyric is actually ” the answer my friends… is blowing in the wind…”
but is commonly heard as ” the ants are my friends.. they’re blowing in the wind”
it may not be that funny , but worth mentioning, I once heard my friend singing an old church hymn to himself and was surprised to hear him sing
“bringing in the sheep… bringing in the sheep…. we will come rejoicing bringing in the sheep”