M is for mondegreen and malapropism
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,
And laid him on the green./
And Lady Mondegreen.
From this poem (the last line misheard by American writer Sylvia Wright), comes the term mondegreen, meaning the misinterpretation of a phrase with a similar sound. Other examples include a line from the Christmas song, “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.” My friend Olive was convinced that the line
All of the other reindeer
Olive, the other reindeer.
A mondegreen often makes some sort of sense. It may be years before you realize that you have made a mistake.
A character in a 1775 play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Mrs. Malaprop, created light comedy by using words that sound similar but have a different meaning. After that, such crazy errors have been called malapropisms. Mrs. Malaprop herself said,
She’s as headstrong as an allegory (instead of alligator).
Canadian Don Harron’s character Charlie Farquharson made hay with commentary on local and world events, using malapropisms to create double meanings and hilarious satire.
Special reading assignment
- In past years, each tree in the maple bush had a spigot and pail. Pails were collected by hand and transported to the sugar shack by horse and wagon.
- Now, the spigots drain into tubes that drain into large tubs. The tubs are then transported to the sugar shack by truck.
- It still takes about 40 litres of sap to make a litre of maple syrup.
Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, English Manual: Letter by Letter, to be published soon.