Thursday, July 17, 2008

Word of the Day


There's more than a measure of synchronicity in the fact that I'm writing a Word of the Day blog post for Shakesquill. On the morning of July 15, I posted on my own blog about a word, mondegreen. I mulled over the idea of continuing to post on the occasional odd word, but took it no further than that. I really didn't have time to, because later that day Shakesquill was announced, along with a call for Word of the Day contributors.

It was a sign.

Now, about mondegreen. Perhaps you don't know the word, but I know you know the thing.

One of Jimi Hendrix's most famous songs is "Purple Haze," and it's famous for more than Hendrix's innovative style. It's infamous for the line, "'scuse me while I kiss the sky."

If you, like hosts of others, ever heard that line as "'scuse me while I kiss this guy," in that moment you created a mondegreen. From Merriam-Webster OnLine:

Pronunciation: \ˈmän-də-ˌgrēn\
Function: noun
Etymology: from the mishearing in a Scottish ballad of "laid him on the green" as "Lady Mondegreen"
Date: 1954
: a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung <"very close veins" is a mondegreen for "varicose veins">

Mondegreens are often the bane and amusement of the English teacher.

While not so funny, "would of" is technically a mondegreen. Students – and many others – hear "would of" when "would have" or its contracted form "would've" is actually being said. Since that's what they hear, that's what they write in their papers, even though Word will automatically correct it:

The world would of been a better place if Martin Luther King hadn't been assassinated.

I've encountered dozens of side-splitting mondegreens over my ten years of teaching, but not one other comes to mind right now. Perhaps that's a post for another day.

Getting back to songs, the lyric that puzzled me for decades – until the internet rolled out and I was able to confirm the real words – was from a song written by Bruce Springsteen, as recorded by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, "Blinded by the Light."

I heard: "wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night."

Springsteen actually wrote: "cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night."

I can't imagine why I was confused.

Merriam-Webster is currently collecting mondegreens to celebrate the word's inclusion in the dictionary's 2008 version, and this was the reason for my original blog post. Share yours here in comments for fun, but then go to MW and share again.

Thanks to Bitty for today's WOTD entry

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