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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eggnog vs. Egg Nog

File this under: Everyone Needs an Editor.

Note: Sometimes it takes a committee of editors.

I work at a large non-profit organization that has many divisions, each of which produces different content, from magazines to books to maps to games to television shows. There are about 20 of us editors who get together once a month to talk about language usage across the organization. I'm the chair of the committee of these comma jockeys.

Our December meeting is traditionally a party with treats and eggnog. The invitation I sent out said "Holiday Egg Nog Party." None of the committee members said anything about "egg nog" as two words, but one responded that she couldn't attend "the holiday eggnog party."

That editor was graceful in correcting my error without public embarrassment and egg on my face. That's the best kind of editor you can find.

Maybe I made the error because I don't like eggnog. As a friend said the other day, it's like drinking pancake batter--yum.

"Can I refill your eggnog? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?" T-shirt available at (Yes, it's really available on a T-shirt. I can't wait to order one for the holidays.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hyphen Trouble: Big Ass Fans

Hyphens can make a big difference.

Consider the ad at right that I saw in a recent issue of The New Yorker.

Glancing at it, I wasn't sure what to make of it, though working through the possible meanings made me laugh:

BIG ass fans? (Note the donkey pictured)
Big ASS fans?
Big ass FANS?
Big fans of asses?
Fans of big asses?

Adding a hyphen would have made the message--and the registered company name--much clearer: Big-Ass Fans. That is, very big fans.

So don't be an ass; add a hyphen when needed.