A girl with colitis goes by.
Actually, the words are “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes” – from the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – and this sort of mishearing now has a name. It’s called a Mondegreen, thanks to a girl who grew up in England hearing a folksong with the lines,
They have slain the Earl of Moray
And laid him on the green
It didn’t surprise her that an earl might come to a bad end. Earls get into battles. But why on earth did they have to kill poor Lady Mondegreen?
The young lady was Sylvia Wright, who later recalled her experience in an essay for Harper’s Magazine in 1954, “The Death of Lady Mondegreen.” She offered another example:
Haffely, Gaffely, Gaffely, Gonward …
… which might have sounded to Alfred Lord Tennyson like a line from his Charge of the Light Brigade – “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward!”
One of Ms. Wright’s contemporaries, a boy in America attending Protestant church services with his parents, was struck by a passage in a hymn, “Gladly the cross I’d bear.”
He kept scanning the aisles, hoping to see Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear, but no such second coming ever came.
Wikipedia offers some additional history of the Mondegreen and a few more examples, including the Christmas classic we misappropriated as a title for this post.