Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Mondegreens

"What's a mondegreen?" you ask.

According to Merriam-Webster's online,
it's a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung <“very close veins” is a mondegreen for “varicose veins”
Also, the origin of mondegreen:
from the mishearing in a Scottish ballad of laid him on the green as Lady Mondegreen
Bryan Garner, in Garner's Modern American Usage, gives some wonderful holiday examples:
Many mondegreens are essentially children's misinterpretations. Consider the examples just from the Christmas season. A child sings "Silent Night" in this way: "Holy imbecile, tender and mild." Of course, the actual words are "Holy infant, so tender and mild." In the same song, "Christ the sailor is born" is a mangled version of "Christ, the Savior, is born." And "round yon Virgin" can mistakenly become "round John Virgin." In "The Twelve Days of Christmas," some have interpreted the true love's gift of the first day as being "a part-red gingerbread tree" instead of "a partridge in a pear tree." And in "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," some have thought that there's a tenth reindeer: "Olive, the other reindeer" (for "All of the other reindeer").
Happy mondegreen mashing of the season's carols to you all!

"Olive the other reindeer" framed print available at


  1. I love this! I suffer from "mondegreenism" and now I have a word for it! "Hold me closer Tony Danza!" (Apologies to Elton John.) My BFF recently admitted that during all her years as a DJ, she swore John Fogerty was saying "there's a bathroom on the right." (Bad Moon Rising)

    Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks, Creek! Love the anecdote about the "bathroom on the right." Now I'll never get that out of my head.

    Speaking of which, when there's a song stuck in your head, it's called an "earworm," translated from the German Ohrwurm.

  3. A related concept would be the Slip of the Tongue. :D

    Great post!

  4. "Olive the Other Reindeer" was also a children's book and an animated Christmas TV special, by Matt Groening (the creator of the Simpsons). Besides the title character, another character, Round John Virgin, also has a name that is an obvious mondegreen.

  5. My college roommate's little brother wanted to dress up as Hark, the herald angel, for his school's Christmas play.

  6. Would a "mondegreen", then, be an isolated instance, or one-off case, of Language Log's beloved eggcorns?


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