There are most definitely no "peas" in "Silent Night," but "heavenly peace." In "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," the big guy in red does this: "making a list, checkin' it twice." Not this: "making a list, of chicken and rice."
Sometimes, O'Reilly said, an entire holiday song is one big what?! She was thinking of the haunting yet beautiful — to the ears of some critics — "Fairytale of New York," co-written by Shane MacGowen of the Celtic punk group The Pogues.
An Irish immigrant recalling a Christmas Eve stay in a New York City drunk tank tells of an inebriated older cellmate whose rendition of a traditional ballad spins the thickly brogued narrator (MacGowen) into a raunchy imagining of a debauched life with the old ditty's female character.
"It's a beautiful, beautiful song but people are always confused by what the words are," O'Reilly said. "It's really hard to decipher the words."
Not to get all wonky, but the song isn't really a mondegreen. Grant Barrett, co-host of the public radio show on language, "A Way with Words," defines mondegreens this way, explaining they can happen for poetry and other spoken language as well:
"You're mishearing where one word ends and another word begins. This is called misdivision. And sometimes you're mishearing a word itself. It sounds like another word to you, and so you try to match that sound up with a word that you already know that kind of fits into the plot, if there is one. And that's called reanalysis," he said.
Don't mind him. He's a lexicographer, and he claims he has no mondegreens of his own.
"I misremember," said Barrett, in San Diego. "That's different. I always joke that I know the first 10 percent of thousands of songs and that's it."