That’s Not What I Heard
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this little hearing malady. As a musician I’ve developed a pretty good ear, but it’s hard to hear the lyrics sometimes, what with all that racket from guitars, drums, etc. But it also happens listening to the spoken word. I’ll show you what I mean. “Shouldn’t the election be about tissues?” It was ‘issues.’ The ‘t’ in about led to the confusion. And the idea of Sikhs wearing turbines on their heads is as silly as that religious order, Carmelized Nuns. During the Olympics this summer was a cycling event, the Men’s Road Rage. The Seattle City Council was talking about plans for abortion of Seattle’s waterfront. What? Oh, a portion. Then I heard a radio ad about a product for receding airlines (who, United? Delta?).
There’s no old standard song, “Crimea River.” And there are no leopard colonies, either. I’m still confused about watching some sports event “screaming live,” There was a news report about government access to online communications, and I thought I heard some pundit say that legally, old females are considered abandoned property. It was emails; I have no idea how the ‘f’ got in there. As far as concert events go, I can see no good reason for ballet parking — do people in tutus park your cars? — unless it’s Stravinsky’s “Rite” or Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.” Did you know Eugene O’Neill won a Pullet Surprise?
This type of mis-hearing has a name: mondegreen. It comes from an old English poem, in which some Earl died, “and they laid him on the Green,” but some high-society lady heard it as “the Lady Mondegreen.” It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. There’s a wealth of them in rock music, “Blinded by the Light” by Mannfred Mann’s Earth Band being the well-known example. What’s the line after the title line? It’s “revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.” But some people hear “wrapped up like a douche” or some variant. There are folks who thought Elton John was singing “Hold me closer, Tony Danza,” I’ve always like the Steve Miller Band, especially “Jet Airliner.” The line goes “Big ol’ jet airliner . . .” but for years I thought it went “Big old joint I light up.” Others have heard “Big hotel with the light on,” “Bingo’s jet eyeliner,” or even “Big old cheddar rhino.” www.kissthisguy.com is a great website for musical mondegreens. The person who started it thought that’s what Jimi Hendrix was singing in “Purple Haze” — “Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” And no, in “Bad Moon Rising” John Fogerty is not singing “There’s a bathroom on the right.”
These kinds of hearing errors underline the nature of linguistic processing. There are two parts of hearing; one is the sound that enters the ears and the other is how the brain interprets what it thinks it hears. You’ll notice the vowel sounds line up almost exactly. The consonants are the usual suspects here. If you’re talking to someone or watching TV, there are visual clues that help our understanding of what’s being said. Since I gave up TV years ago, I listen to radio a lot. Another ad that really threw me was a guy asking if I’d been having difficulty with a reptile dysfunction. I don’t even have a . . . oh. There might be hearing aids that can help eliminate these misunderstandings, but besides having no health care, I’m having way too much fun with it all. “That was Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning’s 24th touchdown Passover the last two seasons.”
There can be difficulties with homonyms, too, words that sound alike but are spelled differently. I don’t understand why if I want a reservation at a ritzy restaurant there is a weight list. That could get confusing; do they mean wait list, or are they advising me that there’s a list of each food by calorie count?
I like mondegreens the most when the misinterpretation seems closer to reality than the real words, like when you think the Canadian national anthem goes, “Oh, Canada, we stand on cars and freeze . . .” rather than “we stand on guard for thee.” I’ve coined them Golden Mondegreens. Maybe my all time favorite was hearing “One of the deadliest ailments in human history is small talk.” Make that small pox. The never-ending presidential campaign has provided a host of golden ones. I’ll write them as I first heard them:
— Trump’s constant lies and exaggerations during the debates made people insist on more fat checkers (fact checkers). I thought it was because he doesn’t like overweight women.
— Some pundit was talking about Trump’s coarse supporters (core supporters).
— Speaking of angry Bernie Sanders supporters at the Democratic Convention, after learning that the DNC was in the tank for Hillary the whole time, “They definitely left a trail of booze (boos)”.
— Former studio employees of Trump’s NBC show “The Apprentice” talked about how he raided women by their looks and breast size (rated).
— An initiative in California to tax sugary soft drinks had opponents — funded by Pepsi and Coca-Cola complaining about attacks on groceries (a tax on groceries).
— A CNN announcer saying, “Let’s look at some of the racists (races) in Congress.”
There are some strange names for racehorses. I suspect some of their owners wanted to have a little fun. Mortar Forker was found by the racing commission to be unacceptable. But a January 2015 race at Gulfstream Park in Florida was a good opportunity for the announcer to have a little wordplay with one of the thoroughbreds, Harass. “And, they’re off, and Harass is out of the gates nicely . . .” Down the backstretch came the call: “And now Julien Leparoux (the jockey) gets Harass moving . . .” But in the “end,” Season Ticket went by Harass for the win. It’s a good thing the horse wasn’t pulled out from the start, either by illness or disqualification, or we’d probably have heard “Scratch Harass.”
Maybe the best of all equine monikers was Hoof Hearted. Down the homestretch in a 2007 race, coming from behind towards the finish, you can watch the call on YouTube: “Colorado Coed, Toast a Dozen, Questor’s Jet. . .” Then suddenly the announcer shouts “HOOF HEARTED! Hoof Hearted on the outside, it’s close!” (He won)
So watch what you hear, or more properly listen to what you hear. Is it sometimes something absurd before you figure it out? It’s great fun. Meanwhile, visualize whirled peas. Why don’t we go out singing: “This is the dawning of the Age of Asparagus, Age of Asparagus . . .”