Okay, well, maybe you didn't. I did. I was like, "but maybe I should do mass nouns and count nouns!" "But misplaced modifiers are more important!" "But that's what every other grammar-blog's gonna do!" "But - "
And that's how we got here.
So what's a mondegreen?
Pinkie Rating: 2
Well, have you ever misheard a song lyric or some famous line or phrase?
Yeah, these are those. A mondegreen (which came by its name in that very same fashion!) is a mishearing of spoken words, usually a famous lyric or line. Often with hilarious results.
Little kids do this all the time, especially when we have them recite 19th century poetry in the name of patriotism. But I guess you can't get too upset, because that's the only way we could arrive at a phrase as delightful as "The Star-Strangled Banana."
Okay, so what do you-the-writer need to know about mondegreens? Not terribly much, though the name itself might come in handy for future Googling purposes.
For everyday writing, your real hazard (and the error from which this entry derives its Pinkie Rating) is the eggcorn: it's similar to a mondegreen, but usually refers to a logical mishearing of a common word or phrase, especially when the two are identical in sound (homophones).
acorn --> eggcorn (true story!)
a dog-eat-dog world --> a doggy-dog world
could've / would've / should've --> could of / should of / would of
wind chill factor --> windshield factor
moot point --> mute point
buck naked --> butt naked
coming down the pike --> coming down the pipe
bated breath --> baited breath
Eggcorns can come from anywhere, but I notice that a lot of them seem to be born from archaic words (moot, bated) or those that have little use outside the one single phrase (wind chill, dog-eat-dog) - which won't save you from ridicule if you make one of these mistakes!
(Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that most of you guys are the type that go bananas when you hear or see other people making these mistakes. "Oh my God, it's INTENTS AND PURPOSES, not INTENSIVE PURPOSES, you IRREDEEMABLE CLOWNSHOE!")
Finally, eggcorns are distinct from malapropisms, which are misused words or phrases that sound similar to the original (though not identical) but are ridiculously wrong in context. Yeah, kids pop these off all the time too.
civil servant --> civil serpent
electoral votes --> electrical votes
croutons --> neutrons
reciprocal --> receptacle
And the all-time hall-of-famer from my own personal experience:
thesis statement --> feces statement
Notice how, unlike eggcorns, malapropisms aren't logical - just ludicrous. You could mishear trim the hat as bin the cat, but it doesn't make a lick of sense.
But of course, accidental misuse invariably gives rise to deliberate word-play, and we use exactly these kinds of 'errors' for much of our humor.
With that said - heard any good ones lately?
Mrs. Malaprop's Offspring - a motherlode of misunderstandings, from Yogi Berra and Groucho Marx to excerpts from student writing
Grammar Girl: Spoonerisms, Mondegreens, Eggcorns and Malapropisms - a quick rundown of just about every kind of verbal screw-up
KissThisGuy.com - the searchable database of misheard song lyrics!
The Eggcorn Database - this is NOT ONLY a giant massive searchable database of eggcorns, BUT ALSO cross-references each one with actual, credible news sources and publications who have made that mistake. If you've ever embarrassed yourself with a goofy error, let this soothe your soul.
Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!
1. Mystery kitty, courtesy of Jarret O.
2. Apollo, courtesy of Honoré Hillman
3. Shelter kitty! DFW-area peeps come check him out at the Irving Animal Care Campus
4. Smudge, courtesy of Dr. C
5. Strays that hang out around my apartment. I've taken to thinking of them as The Oatmeal's funny (and profane!) Bobcats
(Does your kitty want to be a GrammatiCat? Sign up here!)