I never have figured where the chicken noodle soup came from.
I was five years old, and someone had given me a record of Disney songs in French. Why in French? I don’t know. But I loved Disney, and didn’t mind at all that I didn’t understand the words.
Well, not most of them anyway. But right in the middle of “Whistle While You Work,” I was absolutely convinced that the singer said “chicken noodle soup.” It popped right out at me, in the midst of all that unintelligible (to me) French, and I belted out the one line I thought I understood with great enthusiasm!
Well, of course it wasn’t actually “chicken noodle soup.” I have no idea what it could have been, despite three years of high school French and two years of college French (the original record, alas, like so many things from childhood, has long since disappeared).
It’s a brain thing
I don’t know why this is so (any neurologists out there?), but the human brain will do its level best to make sense of something it doesn’t understand.
Doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t matter! If there’s a pattern in there the brain can get a grip on, it will…often with humorous results.
The Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen
You’re probably most familiar with this phenomenon from songs in your own native language.
You’d think you’d be LESS likely to mishear lyrics in a language you speak fluently, wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. Singers rarely articulate as well as they probably should (I can sense my choirmaster nodding here), and the brain will gleefully seize upon the opportunity to make sense of the vague lyrics itself.
In fact, misheard song lyrics in English are so common, there are entire websites devoted to them. Perhaps you’re familiar with a few of them:
- “José, can you see by the dawn’s early light?”
- “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear”
- “Don’t go out tonight, ’cause it’s bound to take your life. There’s a bathroom on the right.”
- “He’s got the whole world in his pants.”
- “Round John Burgen, mother and child”
There’s even a name for them, coined by Sylvia Wright in 1954. As a child, she’d misheard a line of the Scottish song “The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray” as “They have slain the Earl o’ Moray and Lady Mondegreen.”
(The actual lyrics, if you don’t already know, are “They have slain the Earl o’ Moray and layd him on the green.”)
As a result, a common name for such misheard lyrics is “mondegreens.” You can read more about them here.
Flash forward…er…a lot of years
Given my experience with “Whistle While You Work” in French, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I heard my husband one day singing the following words to a familiar tune:
“She spotted a worm, she spotted a worm, she spotted a worm on a gym machine!”
The tune was from the Altan version of Molly Na gCuach Ní Chuilleanáin. In their version, Altan riffs on the lyrics:
“Is fada liom uaim í, is fada liom uaim í, is fada liom uaim í ó d’imigh sí.”
Which translates to…
“I long for her, I long for her, I long for her since she left me.”
My husband, God love him, is a wonderful man, but he hasn’t a word of Irish. I guess I’d been playing that song a bit too often on the car stereo…long enough for his brain to try to find order in the chaos of an unfamiliar language!
From that point on, Molly Na gCuach Ní Chuilleanáin was known in our family as “The Spotted Worm Song.”
In fact, when my daughter heard the song sung in the more usual, slower, tempo, she immediately dubbed it “Elegy for a Spotted Worm.” (As I recall, they were reading Thomas Gray’s poem in her English class at the time).
She even designed a “Spotted Worm” avatar for me, which I thought was very sweet!
I even flirted briefly with the idea of opening a pub called “The Spotted Worm,” but thought better of it (who wants to eat or drink in a place with “worm” in the name…even if it does come from a misheard lyric!)
I can’t find the Altan version on-line (It’s great! You should listen to it if you get a chance!), but here’s a look at the slower version, performed very nicely by Danú
So how about you?
Do you have any amusing misheard song lyrics from an Irish song — or from any other song — to share? Let us hear about them!