There's a bathroom on the right

>> Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A few years ago I ran into the concept of a mondegreen, which is usually defined as a mis-heard line in a song. The most commonly cited examples include "there's a bathroom on the right," as a mis-hearing of CCR's "there's a bad moon on the rise" and "s'cuse me while I kiss this guy" rather than Jimi Hendrix's original "s'cuse me while I kiss the sky."

Thanks to the wonders of wikipedia, I've learned that the original definition, formulated by Sylvia Wright, is actually narrower and more interesting: "The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original".

It doesn't seem to me that either of the common examples given above qualify. I humbly submit the following as instances from from my own personal history of mis-hearing song lyrics:

Rod Stewart, Maggie Mae:

I suppose I could collect my books and go back to school
Or steal my daddy's cue and make a living out of playing pool.

The correct lyric is "fool." "Pool" deploys a clever pun, and a much more arresting image of the feckless yet suddenly intriguing father.

[Correction: Jim in comments points out that in fact "pool" is the real lyric, and that my subsequent interpretation is the actual mondogreen, except it wouldn't be one by the original definition. As Emily Litella used to say . . . never mind].

Speaking of which, The Kinks, Father Christmas:

When I was small I believed in Santa
Though I knew there was no dad.

Instead of the canonical "though I knew it was my dad." The mis-hearing adds a level of wistful pathos to the proceedings.

Next up, Neil Young, Helpless:

There is a town in north Ontario
With dream comfort memory to spare

The correct line is "With dream comfort memory despair."

I'm of two minds about this one, as the correct version is more disturbingly surreal, while the mis-hearing has a certain homey charm.

Anyway, I like Wright's original definition much more than the contemporary (mis)understanding of what she had in mind, which is rather ironic as Alanis Morrisette did not observe.


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