I’m sure you’re familiar with the game Telephone? A group of people get in a circle, and one person comes with a silly phrase like, “The Orange Monkey Eats Green Bananas.” Then, the phrase is whispered from one person to the other around the circle. Each person can only say the phrase once and the listener can’t ask clarifying questions, like, “Did you mean Orange Monkey or Oral Moon Sea?” When the last person has to repeat the phrase, it’s inevitably ridiculous, usually something like, “The Horrible Pokemon Seats Green Cabanas.”

People mishear things all the time, and the game telephone proves it. When something is misheard, the resulting word or phrase is called a mondegreen.

Mondegreen Definition

Photo by Phil Parker

The Definition of Mondegreen

We’ve covered mondegreen on The Write Practice in the past. Here’s Liz on the subject:

The word “mondegreen” comes from an essay by Sylvia Wright, in which she retells the story of her mother reading poems out loud to her from Percy’s Reliques, and she mishears “laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen”.

A mondegreen is a line that is misheard from poetry or song, or just a terrible sound system.

See the full post, 3 Dialogue Terms You Probably Didn’t Know (but Should!).

Examples of Popular Mondegreens

This word came up this labor day weekend while talking about Iron Butterfly’s 60’s hit, “In a Gadda Da Vida.” Why does that song have such a weird name? Is it some Hinduism term? Was it gibberish that came to the psychedelic band during a drug-infused jam session? What they heck does Gadda Da Vida mean?

While reading the Wikipedia page, we discovered the band’s drummer, Ron Bushy, misheard the lyrics while listening to the recording through headphones (drug use might indeed have helped this mishearing). The resulting mondegreen, said Wikipedia, “ stuck as the title.

So there you have it.

Also, there’s another reason not to do drugs!

Other song lyric examples include Jimi Hendrix’s lyric from “Kiss the Sky” being misheard as “kiss this guy”. There’s even a whole online database dedicated to documenting lyrical mondegreens.

How about you? Have you ever misheard someone in a such a way as to create an amusing situation?

PRACTICE

Write a scene where one of the characters is constantly mishearing the other characters, creating numerous mondegreens in the process.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, share your practice with the writing community by post it in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to give feedback to your fellow writers.

Have fun!

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is an author and the founder of The Write Practice. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! You can follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).