In addition to pareidolia, I occasionally suffer(if that’s the right word) from bouts of mondegreen; I don’t think that it’s covered by any reputable insurance(though it’s likely on the docket for some fly-by-night, blood-sucking outfit from the late-night TV)but it can be sort of debilitating when you’ve got it. Pareidolia, as you must recall, is usually seeing significant images in totally random contexts, like the guy down in Louisiana who cut open an eggplant and beheld the word “God” spelled out in seeds. Elvis and the Virgin Mary are apt to turn up anywhere, from a toasted cheese sandwich to pictures in mildew on old walls.
Mondegreens, on the other hand, are audio rather than video effects and have only been defined since 1954, when the word was coined by Sylvia Wright in an essay which appeared in Harper’s Magazine. It’s even in dictionaries now. The Wikipedia definition is : a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony(sounding alike) in a way that gives new meaning; most often created by listening to a poem or song but not hearing clearly, substituting words that sound similar to the misheard lyrics…sort of making sense. The columnist in the Record who mentioned this the other day cited his mishearing of the ‘70’s song “Chuck E.’s in Love” as “Chuck Easy, Love”. Not real intelligible, but close. He gives a couple of other examples, like “very close veins” for “varicose veins” and “old timers’ disease“ for Alzheimer’s disease. My contribution to these slightly-skewed interpretations was my confusion over a ‘60’s tune by Elvis (See, I said he was everywhere) titled “Return to Sender”; for years I puzzled over why Elvis was singing about “The Prisoner of Zenda”. Not that I actually knew anything about “The Prisoner of Zenda”—it was written in 1894(Just a tad before my time—maybe I was channeling Grandma) and made into movies in 1913, 1922, 1937, 1952 and 1979 (a Peter Sellers flick, must have been interesting). I wasn’t that into Elvis, truth to tell, so I probably didn’t listen too carefully.
Anyway, some other examples of the phenomenon are :
“Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life….” from the 23rd Psalm, “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear” from the hymn “Keep Thou My Way” and “O Say Kansas City” opening the “Star-Spangled Banner”. Pop songs, possibly because of the really poor enunciation found among the groups singing them, are frequently episodes of mondegreens, for instance, the Creedence Clearwater Revival line “There’s a bad mood on the rise” morphed into “There’s a bathroom on the right”. The original “Twelve Days of Christmas” had “four colley birds”—not any more understandable than “four calling birds”, really—until the early twentieth century. The cartoon feature, “Olive, the Other Reindeer” had its origin in the song “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. One of my personal favorites was the line from the Catholic rosary, where the line hailing Mary (See, I told you she was everywhere too)”amongst women” became “a monk swimmin’” and some little kid looking at a Nativity scene at Christmas trying to find “Round John Virgin”. I even had to participate in a reverse mondegreen in the third grade when we had a music program and sang a novelty song, popular at the time, “Mairzy Doats”; the immortal lyrics were : “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey; A kiddley divey too, Wooden shoe?” Great stuff, eh?
And there are examples of the same kind of wordplay in lots of languages, not just English; one mentioned was the Hebrew song, “Hava Nagila”(Let’s be happy)—always showing up in Jewish wedding movies where everyone goes around in a circle and they all end up stamping and yelling “Hey” at the end.
See, they’re everywhere. And don’t get me started on soramimi—songs that produce unintended meanings when translated homophonically into another language. I always wonder about the ones in the Methodist hymnal that have versions in Cherokee or Japanese. What if we pronounced them wrong and sang something scatological? Might even have some connection to the urban legend that the Chevy Nova had to have its name changed when sold in Latin America because competitors claimed that it “No Va”—“Doesn’t go” Or on eggcorn…or mumpsimus (That one makes me crazy).
Malapropism is another story. Time for bed.