Book Writing and Mondegreens

book writing

Sometimes it helps to take a little break from book writing and play with unusual words. This blog post does just that, defining what a few odd gems mean and how you might make use of them in your manuscript.

First, you’ll want to read Mumpsimus — Is There a Vaccination for That? and Eggcorns in the Novel Writing Process. I hope you find them amusing and maybe even helpful as you focus on characterization and dialogue.

Using Mondegreens in Book Writing

First, let’s circle back to eggcorns in book writing.

Eggcorns are an inadvertent misstatement of a word or phrase. These misspellings or mispronunciations are honest, plausible errors. We’re simply trying to articulate a familiar phrase, but miss the mark.

For instance: Let’s nip something in the butt right now … or rather, nip it in the bud.

So, eggcorns don’t change the meaning of a word or phrase … but mondegreens do as you will soon see.

If you’ve ever sung song lyrics incorrectly, well, that’s a mondegreen. For instance, I loved the Monkees when I was a little girl. My sister and I sang “I’m A Believer” at the top of our lungs, but got it wrong despite the song title. Our rendition was, “Then I saw her face. Now I’m gonna leave her.” This brings a significantly different meaning to the lyrics, which are actually: “Then I saw her face. Now I’m a believer.”

Has anyone else ever wondered about the Hallow Wood Bee? Yes, again as a child I misheard and misinterpreted the Lord’s Prayer in which we state, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Well … we pronounced hallowed as hallow wood, followed by be, which we thought was bee. Hallow Wood Bee. Classic mondegreen.

Oh—and the Christmas song “Silent Night” includes the lyrics “”Round yon virgin,” but how many children have sung “Round John Virgin” instead?

So, how did mondegreens get the monikor? Well, it began with the poem “Percy’s Reliques” by Thomas Percy below:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

Writer Sylvia Wright misheard the last verse and assumed it was “and laid him on the green” instead of “And Lady Mondegreen.” She charmingly shared this in a 1954 interview, and the word “mondegreen” eventually became a thing.  It took until 2000, however, for Webster’s College Dictionary to include the word. But I’m glad they finally did, because it’s a fun concept with clever implications in the book writing process.

More on Mondegreens

What if Lorraine’s boyfriend is extremely good looking, but short on smarts? Or … what if he’s long on smarts and actually alters the lyrics of a song to break up with her?

Consider having him serenade Lorraine with the Johnny Nash song, “I Can See Clearly Now.” However, instead of singing “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,” he quips, “I can see clearly now, Lorraine is gone.”

Voila! That’s the beauty of a mondegreen. Authors can tuck them into dialogue to ramp up the interaction, develop the character, or just have a little fun with dialogue.

Need more inspiration? Check out the Am I Right website of misheard lyrics, song parodies, music humor, and satire. And stay tuned as I blog on more interesting topics such as homophony, Hobson-Johnson, expressive loan, folk etymology, oronyms, malapropisms, and more!

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