Dead Ants and Mondegreens

Did you know that Bob Dylan wrote a song with the lyrics: "The ants are my friends"?

Well, as a matter of fact, he didn't. In the actual Dylan song, the words are: "the answer my friend."

This, of course, is just one small example of an entire class of subconscious wordplay. It is called a "Mondegreen."

According to this well-informed wiki "Writer Sylvia Wright listened to a Scottish ballad called 'The Bonny Earl of Murray' which she thought included this line: 'They hae slay the Earl of Murray, and Lady Mondegreen.' Later she learned that instead of 'Lady Mondegreen' it was 'laid him on the green.' She then began to collect similar mishearings and in 1954 published an article about them, and coined the word 'Mondegreen.'"

Fortunately for the Mondegreedy, San Francisco columnist Jon Carroll has devoted at least the last eight years to documenting the mondegreening of the English-speaking world. Here are his top four mondegreens:

  • We believe that the most frequently submitted Mondegreen is still "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear" (known in the real world as that fine old hymn "Gladly The Cross I'd Bear").

  • A close second is "There's a bathroom on the right," a mishearing of "There's a bad moon on the rise" from the old Creedence Clearwater song "Bad Moon Rising."

  • Third place is still firmly held by "Excuse me while I kiss this guy," actually "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" from the Jimi Hendrix song "Purple Haze." Mr. Hendrix was himself aware that he had been Mondegreened, and would occasionally, in performance, actually kiss a guy after saying that line.

  • Fourth place is probably occupied by Round John Virgin, a Shakespearean figure occasionally found in "Silent Night." Also high on the charts is a Mondegreen from "Groovin'", a popular song of an earlier era. (Kids, "groovin'" was kind of like "chillin'" except the clothing fit more tightly). In that song, the Rascals were singing "You and me endlessly," but many people heard "You and me and Leslie"...

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