Monday, 9 November 2020

Harold be thy name

This is a post about "mondegreens," which is in some ways linked to the one on malapropisms

A Mondegreen results from a mis-hearing of a phrase or word in a poem or song lyric. American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, writing that as a girl, when her mother read to her from Percy's Reliques, she had misheard the lyric "layd him on the green" in the fourth line of the Scottish ballad The Bonny Earl of Murray, as "Lady Mondegreen."

 I'm sure many of you have heard of the mondegreen, "Gladly, thy cross-eyed bear," taken from mis-hearing a hymn line: "gladly thy cross I'd bear." And I've always liked "Our Father, which art in Heaven/ Harold be thy name. (I like to think of God's real name being Harold). 

But I hadn't realised how widespread they were and that they work in other languages than English too. Wright said that the point about them and why they needed a term coined for them was that they are often better than the original wording.

Certainly,
"They hae slain the Earl o' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen" 

does make one wonder about Lady Mondegreen and why she had to die too! 

Yet the mishearing of The Star-spangled Banner to produce the nonsense adverb "donzerly light" perhaps doesn't quite make up in mystery for the lack of meaning.


A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt is so titled, according to Wikipedia, because of a childhood mishearing of a phrase from the Catholic rosary prayer, Hail Mary. "Blessed art thou amongst women" became "a monk swimmin'." And I can just see that monk doing the front crawl to approach the BVM.


Likewise, Olive, the Other Reindeer is a 1997 children's book by Vivian Walsh, which borrows its title from a mondegreen of the line, "all of the other reindeer" in the famous Christmas song about Rudolph. 

You can have reverse mondegreens too, as in the song which goes:

                     Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey

A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?
 

 

The clue to the meaning is contained in the bridge:

If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
Sing "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy."

This makes it clear that the last line is "A kid'll eat ivy, too; wouldn't you?" 

This was apparently sung to me as a baby, since my mother was called Ivy (though not spelled in the standard way) and, by extension, my father sometimes called me "Mairzy doats," which makes me a sort of Lady Mondegreen myself! 


Word of the week: Mail-in ballot 

We call them postal votes in the UK and they seem a very good idea, especially in a pandemic. CNN say 'This is a blanket term for any ballot mailed to voters, though the completed forms can be returned by mail, to a dropbox or in person to officials or polling places. In three critical states -- Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin -- officials weren't able to start processing any of these ballots until Election Day, which led to huge backlogs and slowed down the count."

But Donald Trump referred to them just as "ballots" which confused me, as every vote is a ballot and, when he said, "if there were no ballots, there would be no problem," he seemed to be saying, "if there were no votes, the election wouldn't be problematic."

Actually, he probably does think that at this moment. Ironically, he voted by mail-in ballot himself.



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