When I was a child, my mother used to utter a phrase that always left me speechless - “…in this damn age.”
She’d say it at the oddest times - instances where, in my opinion, swearing wasn’t called for at all. For example, she’d drop this bomb: “You’d think that in this damn age we could cook a turkey and rolls in the oven simultaneously.”
See what I mean? I was confused. Why all the cussing over a turkey and rolls? Shouldn’t you reserve cussing for truly enraging instances, like dropping the cooked turkey on the floor?
Years later, as a college English major, I was reading a book that included the phrase “in this day and age” and I got it. In the middle of class I started laughing out loud because of the relief of discovering that my mom didn’t have the mouth of a sailor after all.
There’s actually a term for these mishearings or misinterpretations of a phrase. That word is “mondegreen,” and it’s most commonly used in reference to a line in a poem or a lyric in a song.
Sadly for me, my mondegreens didn’t end that day on the college campus. They have followed me into adulthood, and sadly, I seemed to have passed that particular gene down to my children as well.
One Christmas Lily asked if we could go see the vegetable of light. It took me a few minutes to realize she was referring to the annual Festival of Lights holiday drive-through here in Roseburg. So, yeah, she had inherited the old mondegreen from yours truly.
When Nathaniel was in 5th grade, I was driving him to school and we were singing along to the radio. I listened as he sang the following lyrics to “Miss American Pie:"
So Bye, bye Miss American pie
Drove a machete through Neddy
But Neddy was dry.
I’m fairly certain that Don McLean never meant that song to be so violent.
Sadly, I have a history of getting lyrics wrong as well, going back to the late ‘80s when I thought Bruce Hornsby was singing “Listen to the metal in the rain” when it was actually “Listen to the mandolin rain.” My soon-to-be husband at the time ever-so-gently pointed out my error by pointing at me and laughing uncontrollably when he heard me singing “my” lyrics to the song. Yeah, he’s sweet that way.
In one second, a song that used to be about acid rain was suddenly a lilting melody about musical rain. So do I believe that one word wrong can make a difference? Yes. Yes I do.
But I’m not alone.
Take my friend Allison. She loved Billy Squier in the ‘80s and no song more than “My Kinda Lover,” but the accompanying lyrics made little sense to her, especially because she thought the song was called “My Candelabra.” Maybe a tribute to Liberace? It could have happened, right?
Allison’s husband Paul was no better. Madonna’s smash hit “Dress You Up in My Love” was playing on the radio waves and poor confused Paul was singing “Dress You Up in Nylon.” Big mistake.
And perhaps my favorite example is my friend Laura’s mom, who misunderstood Billy Joel, but sang along nonetheless:
You made the rice
I made the gravy
Of course, it was “You may be right, I may be crazy,” which makes a lot more sense when the following lyric is “and it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” Somehow I don’t think of making rice and gravy as a madcap adventure, but who am I to judge?
After all, in this damn age you may be right … I may be crazy.