Olive, the Other Reindeer

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.

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About Al

Editors of The Horse You Rode In On (listed below) hail from Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All contributions are signed. When guest contributors are included, their comments will be signed in a manner consistent with their needs for discretion, witness protection, or yearning for personal adulation.

7 thoughts on “Olive, the Other Reindeer

  1. This is my favorite post. Vivian Walsh actually wrote a Christmas book entitled “Olive, the Other Reindeer” about a dog convinced she is destined to help Santa. The book is full of characters with similar names. My favorite is a bus driver named Richard Stans who says, “Yeah, for years I thought that Pledge of Allegiance was for me, you know, ‘ … and to the Republic, for Richard Stans’?”

  2. When I learned the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school, I wondered where one could find a “toodery” republic. I have since learned that such entities are in woefully short supply.

  3. I saw this one in an online collection:

    “Andy Turner contibutes this mishearing of a line from Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer:

    Just a come-on from the horse on Second Avenue
    (Just a come-on from the whores on Second Avenue)

    It was made worse by the next line, correctly sung as:

    I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there.”

  4. Dick Dell just wrote to say that, as a child, his wife Nora searched the world map to find Orientar. That’s the country the three kings are from.

  5. Joan once uttered what could have been an all-time great Mondegreen related to Nietzsche’s “Thus spake Zarathrustra” — except that in her case it was intentional humor.

    After making a pronouncement on some matter of pith and moment that we had been discussing, she added,

    “Thus spake Sarah’s Rooster.”

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