This is one of a few questions I got about mondegreens after I mentioned them in a recent episode about the poop emoji.
“Hi, Mignon. This is J.T. Morris from Evergreen, Texas. I’m a huge fan of Grammar Girl, and I just listened to the episode today in which you had a segment about an eggcorn related to the poop emoji. It was the word “holy” and the proper spelling of that in relation to that text. In listening to that segment, I realized I think I have been misusing the word “mondegreen.” I always assumed that what you referred to and as eggcorn was a mondegreen. So I would love some feedback on the differentiation between an eggcorn and a mondegreen for clarification purposes. Thanks so much, and yeah, I totally love the podcast. Bye!”
Thanks for the question, J.T.
There are so many different kinds of errors that sometimes it seems overwhelming, but fortunately, a lot of them are funny, like thinking Creedence Clearwater Revival sang “There’s a bathroom on the right” instead of “There’s a bad moon on the rise” and saying something is a “little fit bunny” instead of a “little bit funny.” (1)
I’ll start with eggcorns and then explain how they’re different from mondegreens, and then we’ll also talk about spoonerisms and malapropisms because they’re similar too.
Mondegreens happen when you mishear something, usually a song lyric, and create a new meaning. The Creedence “There’s a bathroom on the right” mistake is mondegreen, as it is when people listen to “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” and hear “Olive, the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names” instead of “all of the other reindeer.”
The name “mondegreen” was coined by a writer named Sylvia Wright who misheard a line from a 17th-century Scottish ballad.
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl of O’ Moray,
And laid him on the green.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for the future of word play), Wright heard the last line as “And Lady Mondegreen” instead of “And laid him on the green.”
Wright had imagined a second slaying victim where there was none, and when she discovered the error she decided to name the…