Column: Hit me with your pet shark


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I’d love to be in a real band someday, if for no other reason but to come up with cool potential band names. Because it seems like most of the good band names have been taken already, I’d have to come up with something original and daring. I think I’ve got it.

Are you ready? Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Mondegreen!

After a quick Google search, it appears as though both Mondegreen and The Mondegreens are already band names. All the good ones are taken.

Because I don’t want to get in a legal battle with either band, I’ll just tell you about the term “mondegreen” instead. A mondegreen is a term for a misheard music lyric that you sing or hear instead of the correct lyrics. Writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954 in an article for Harper’s Bazaar, in which she recounted a misunderstood song lyric from “The Bonny of Earl Murray.” Instead of the actual lyrics “…and layd him on the green,” Wright heard “and Lady Mondegreen.” In the same article, she concludes: “The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.”

I love mondegreens. Some notable mondegreens include lyrics from Jimi Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze.” “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “excuse me while I kiss the sky” often is heard. Pretty much every line from Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is easy to mishear. “Hold me close now Tiny Dancer” really does sound like “folding clothes with Tony Danza.” I’ve also heard people think this line said, “Happy birthday, private waxer” and “Hold me close, I’m tired of dancing.”

Our brains hear these musical words and interpret them as whatever sounds make the most sense. That’s why, when we’re listening to a Pat Benetar hit, we’re prone to hearing “Hit me with your pet shark” instead of “Hit me with your best shot.” I think I like the “pet shark” line better.

I could go on and on with examples of familiar mondegreens, but I want to take a moment to dub the already-knighted Elton John as the King of the Mondegreens. There’s something about his lyrical cadence that causes our brains to make bizarre connections. In “Bennie and the Jets,” instead of hearing “She’s got electric boots, a mohair suit,” we think we’re hearing “She’s got electric boobs, and mohair shoes.” In “Candle in the Wind,” I used to hear “Goodbye enormous jeans” instead of “Goodbye Norma Jean.” In “Rocket Man,” I thought the line “Burning out his fuse up here alone” was “Burnin’ all the shoes off everyone.” It almost makes sense.

If and when I create a band, I’ll make sure to channel Elton John to confuse fans as to what I’m singing (of course I’ll be the lead singer). So, if you ever hear me going on about some guy named “Monty Green,” you may want to look up the lyrics to find out what I’m actually singing.