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Bargell: ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy

by Cindy Bargell

Thankful as I am that art and music remain part of our school curriculum, I confess my enthusiasm waned ever so slightly when I learned that our daughter’s music homework this week entailed the unique combination of a fifth grader, a recorder and multiple repetitions of the Flintstone’s theme song – all with me in the same household. During winter break in Summit County no less, where the option of sending the child outside to practice might be considered child abuse. And, although I don’t think a plastic recorder actually would get stuck to her lips when playing in -20-degree weather, I am sure I don’t want to be the first parent making the trip to the doctor for an emergency detachment. But I’m not complaining – or at least not complaining too loud (who’d hear me over the recorder anyway?) Because even though it might not be the pinnacle of cultural exchange, to me it is fun that the assignment came from the school’s visiting music teacher from Spain. Who knew Fred and Barney would do their part to bridge the cultural gap?

What’s either funny, or sad, depending on your point of view, is that I still recall all, or at least nearly all, of the words to the theme for the Bedrock bunch. One line, though, had me stumped – something about someone winning a fight, so the cat will stay out for the night. (I can hear you humming.) I was pretty certain “Baby Croc” was supposed to be the victor. Turns out, I had misheard, and instead the lyrics actually are “maybe Fred will win the fight.” Forty years of singing along, and who knew?

What I also didn’t realize is that my mis-hearing and mis-singing of the lyrics has its own special name. And, because school is out and I am (nearly) certain my kids are yearning for a vocabulary extension, I thought it important to share my newly acquired vocabulary. Plus, I am hoping it might distract my (rather persistent) daughter from her recorder, at least for a few minutes.

A mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, generally a music lyric or line to a poem, due to a near homophony to give the original lyric or line an entirely new – and sometimes pretty hilarious – meaning is called a “mondegreen.” The first mondegreen was actually the word mondegreen itself. It was coined in 1964 by Sylvia Murphy writing for Harper’s Magazine, who explained that throughout her youth she thought a stanza from the 17th-century ballad “The Bonny Earl O’Moray” ended with “And Lady Mondegreen.” The line actually read “and laid him on the green,” but Ms. Murphy’s version worked quite well for her. Her term stuck, and mondegreen made its first appearance in the Random House College dictionary in 2000 and found its way into Merriam-Webster in 2008.

Through the years we’ve all heard our fair share of mondegreeneze (yes – I just made the term up with the hope of it being included in the dictionary in 2045, if someone could please check). For those of us who grew up in the ’70s it’s probably no surprise that Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light” may have a lock on the all-time total number of mondegreens. Personally, I think “wrapped up like a doofus throwing snowballs in a fight” makes far more sense that the real line “Revved up like a deuce another runner in the night.” In fact, there’s an entire website devoted to mondegreens (www.kisstheguy.com), where folks have shared their own special song lyrics for years. Some are quite relevant; take for instance the line from the Beatles’ “Hard Days Night.” Instead of “and when I get you alone” substitute “when I get you a loan” – good for today’s economy. Or, from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising read “there’s a bathroom on the right” instead of “there’s a bad moon on the rise” (perhaps borne of necessity). Old standards too are fraught with mondegreens – like making sure that “Old Aunt Quaintence” is not forgot on New Years. For aging new-agers from “Hair,” it may be good news that it’s really the “dawning of the age of Asparagus.”

My all-time favorite mondegreen comes from that recorder-playing kid, who learned her school song in pre-school. For many years she proudly sang that the “the people there are hairy … they make sure my needs are met.” While I’m not sure whether there is an abundance of hair, the actual lyric is “the people there are caring . . . .” And, even in the face of recorder homework, I still believe this to be true.

Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She is a card-carrying PTSA member, real estate and natural resources lawyer and part-time gymnastics coach. She welcomes your comments at cindy@visanibargell.com.


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