People hearing without listening

A year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about misunderstood lyrics, offering a couple dozen hilarious examples of how people hear one thing while the vocalist is actually singing something else.  Our sense of hearing is, to say the least, imperfect.  Depending on how closely we’re listening, and how clearly the speaker or singer is enunciating, we fairly often mishear what’s being said or sung, and we conclude incorrectly what we think we heard.

misheardlyricsThe official term for this is a mondegreen, coined by American writer Sylvia Wright in 1954.  As a young girl, she enjoyed listening to her mother read aloud from a book of 17th Century Scottish poems, one of which included the line, “They had slain the Earl of Moray, and laid him on the green.”  Wright misinterpreted this as, “They had slain the Earl of Moray, and Lady Mondegreen.”  Even after she learned of her error, she decided she preferred her version, and chose to call this phenomenon a mondegreen.

At the bottom of this column is a Spotify playlist that includes some of the recordings that people have misheard over the years.  If you’re a subscriber, you can listen to the whole song and hear the lyric in question.  (If not, well, all you get is a random 30-second sample that may not include the relevant line.  If you’re a music lover, a Spotify subscription is well worth the modest $10-a-month investment.) Read More