The word mondegreen, he said, can be traced to Sylvia Wright and a column she wrote in Harper's Magazine in 1954 titled, "The Death of Lady Mondegreen." Wright discovered that for years she had botched the last line of the first stanza of the Scottish folk ballad "The Bonnie Earl o' Moray."
How it goes, with spellings based on updates of antiquated English: "They have slain the Earl of Moray, and laid him on the green."
What she heard: "They have slain the Earl of Moray, and Lady Mondegreen."
Babes are little mondegreen machines. Paula Werne, who works at a holiday theme park in Santa Claus, Ind., had one in her son, John, who is now 22.
As a tot of 3 he took to singing "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" to his stuffed animals out of a Christmas songbook, mom said. Only he turned "Christmas Eve is coming soon; now you dear old man," into "dirty old man."
Them's fightin' words in Werne's town, but she and her husband let it go. "It was too cute and he was so happy that he knew all the words," Werne said. "By the next year, he'd figured it out. I still sing it that way, though."
Russell Rabut doesn't have any mondegreens, but he is one.
The 22-year-old senior at San Diego State University, majoring in — what else, English — plays rhythm guitar in a band called The Mondegreens. He took the name to his band mates, all high school friends from Chico, Calif., after a fellow student in a creative writing class mentioned it.
"I had never heard of it before. It's a very beautiful word and it's cool how it came to exist," he said. "It just seems like such an eloquent irony, that existing art can spin something poetic by accident."
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