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May 28

Secret Comedy Writing Technique – Mondegreens

Another entry in my mini series Secret Comedy Writing Techniques are Mondegreens This is when you miss hear the lyric of a song or some other spoken line. Examples of this are as follows:

In an episode of the sitcom Friends, Phoebe believes the lyric from Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.” Whereas in actual fact the lyric is: “Hold me closer, tiny dancer.” (Surely the song would’ve been called Tony Danza otherwise?)

The term Mondegreen is itself a mondegreen. American Sylvia Wright coined the term in her essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen”, which was published in Harper’s Magazine in 1954. She explains that as a child she misheard a lyric from a 17th Century ballad, “The Bonnie Earl O’Murray”. The fourth line of this ballad is “and laid him on the green”, but Wright heard the line as “And Lady Mondegreen”.

Other examples include The Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” features the line “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes,” which people mis-hear as “the girl with colitis goes by.”

The Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze has the lyric: “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” and this gets misheard as “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” This was capitalized on by Hendrix who would allegedly sing the misheard lyric instead of the actual one, which I’m sure would add to people’s confusion.

Manfred Mann’s cover version of the Bruce Springsteen song “Blinded by the Light” features the lyric “revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night” gets misheard as “wrapped up like a douche”. Apparently deuce in this case refers to a make of car called the “Ford Deuce Coupe”.

Another technique,  similar to Mondegreens, is known as Farberisms after Professor David J. Farber of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. They are either ironic or nonsensical turns of phrase such as:

“I could tell you stories that would curdle your hair.”
“That solution fills a much needed gap.”
“It’s about 15 feet as the eye flies.”

I myself have only recently discovered the technique Mondegreens. I knew that the error occurred but I never knew that there was an actual term for it. I, myself, have unintentionally… mondegreened (?) It’s something that makes me chuckle, but not fall of my chair and hit my head through laughter.

Is there any area that you might be able to incorporate Mondegreens in your speeches or other comedic writings? Like I maintain, you don’t really need to use any of these techniques to be funny. But it would be remiss of me not to point them out especially if they could add colour to your material.