Flashback to 1972: I was fourteen-years old and my brother was twelve. Our mother was wandering around the house belting out the lyrics to a very popular song, America’s “Horse with No Name.” My brother and I really weren’t paying too much attention because she was always singing something, thinking she was pretty groovy. When “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” came out, she thought she was incredibly cool as she sang about “the baddest man in the whole damn town.” But back to “Horse with No Name.” For some reason, we actually started listening to her and as she wrapped up the chorus my brother and I looked at each other and exploded with laughter. Instead of singing, “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name,” she crooned, “I went through the desert with Horace No-Name.” We laughed like hyenas with hiccups gasping for air! The kind of laughing that leaves you feeling satisfied and happy, but with sore stomach muscles the next morning.
Do You Mondegreen?
…yup, we all do!
A mondegreen is the mishearing or misrepresentation of a phrase, usually from a song or poem.
The Disney movie Pocahontas came out when our daughter was about three years old, and it seemed the soundtrack was always playing in the car. One of the songs was called “Savages” and the English settlers boomed out the highly inflammatory lyrics, “They’re savages! Savages! Dirty red skin devils!” But, from her car seat, sweet Ehris always growled:
“They’re sandwiches, sandwiches, dirty red skin devils!”
They’re savages, savages, dirty red skin devils! – “Savages” from Pocahontas
In 2005, Gwen Stafani’s “Hollaback Girl” became the first digital download to sell one million copies. My husband, snapping his fingers to the thumping tune sang:
“Few times I’ve been around that track
So it’s not just gonna happen like that
Cause I ain’t no Harlem black girl!
I ain’t no Harlem black girl!”
(‘Cause I ain’t no hollaback girl, I ain’t no hollaback girl)
George M. Cohan may have written the song in 1906, but when my brother was little he patriotically marched around the house with his own tribute to the American flag:
“You’re a Grand Old Flag you’re a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave,
You’re the emblem of, the land I love,
The homer, the femur, the rave. (The home of the free and the brave.)
Ev’ry heart beats true under red light, and blue” (Ev’ry heart beats true ‘neath the Red, White and Blue)
My brother also insisted that the “ABC Song” went like this: “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L,11,P”
And finally, our son Mic had his own version of Donna Summer’s 1979 hit, “Hot Stuff.” Unlike her Platinum version, his did not hit the Hot Disco Singles list:
“I want some pasta baby this evening! Gotta have some pasta baby tonight!”
“I want some hot stuff, baby this evenin’, Gotta have some hot stuff, Gotta have some love tonight!”
How about you? Do you have any funny mondegreens? Kids are particularly good at mishearing lyrics and repeating them with confidence! Share yours in the comments below.
Velya Jancz-Urban is a teacher, author, former Brazilian dairy farm owner, expert on New England’s colonial women, inhabitant of a 1770 haunted home, and a Chica Peep. She has a newly-released novel, Acquiescence, and her first book in a children’s hands-on science series is slated to hit the market by end of summer 2015. When she’s not touring with her highly-entertaining and informative presentation The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife or on the road speaking about her new book Acquiescence, she’s traveling from school-to-school teaching her award-winning How Cool is That? (Hands-On Science) programs.