Few of us would passively hold still while being whacked with sticks and pelted with rocks. So how come, when it comes to verbal assaults, so many of us go all deer-in-the-headlights?
Maybe it’s because some of those word missiles have been launched at us so many times, we no longer consciously register them (think of the parent who’s been telling his offspring they’ll never amount to anything for the past, oh, forty years). Other times, we don’t hear the verbal slap for what it is because it comes disguised as “advice” from someone we think we can trust.
But even when verbal attacks are pretty obvious, it’s not always easy to know how to defend against them. Consider the following:
The above is perhaps rock’s most famous “mondegreen,” a term coined to mean a misheard song lyric (and derived, rather uninterestingly, from an obscure Scottish ballad whose lyrics “They hae slain the Earl O’Murray, and laid him on the green,” were apparently misheard as “and Lady Mondegreen”).
Okay, so misunderstood 17th-century folk music is only vaguely amusing. But it’s downright hilarious to imagine Jimi Hendrix wailing about a sudden impulse to smooch a bandmate in “Purple Haze.” What he actually sang, by the way, was “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky,” which, while not much more illuminating, is at least kinda poetic.
I was 12 when I first read Dickens’s serialized novel about Pip and his “great expectations” (translation: whopping big inheritance, morphing from lowly orphan to influential man about town, marrying the elusive Estella), but even I knew life was gonna throw Pip a few curve balls—if only because if it didn’t, it was going to be one big snore of book.
Still, that didn’t stop me from spending the next couple of decades having great expectations of my own. Some of them were big—famous actress! editor of The New Yorker! Others were more modest—that cute boy in English lit would ask me to the prom! there’d be six inches of snow by Christmas!
All of them required a lot of rules about what things had to look like in order to be “perfect.” A good number of them hinged upon my having mysteriously acquired direct control over the behavior of someone else.