’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

music floating over an ear, mondegreen, maggie mcreynolds blogThe 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.

There are other common mondegreens:

From Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising”
What people hear: “There’s a bathroom on the right”
Real lyric: “There’s a bad moon on the rise”

From Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light”
What people hear: “Wrapped up like a douche, you know, a loner in the night”
Real lyric: “Cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night”

From Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”
What people hear: “It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not”
Real lyric: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not”

You’ve probably got a few mondegreens of your own—and, by the way, I’d love to hear some of them, because mondegreens are a hoot. But there’s another kind of mishearing that can do real damage, and many of us fall victim to it every day.

I’m talking about what we read into and what we think we “hear” people say. For example, when your boss says something like, “Heading home?” you might hear, “Slacker. You should be putting in more hours.” When your child’s teacher says, “Erin had some problems staying in her seat today,” you might hear, “You’re a lousy parent who can’t keep your kid under control.” When your spouse says, “I love it when you wear your hair down,” you might hear, “You look dumpy and tired when you pull your hair up into a ponytail with that stupid pilled scrunchy.”

This kind of thing is especially insidious because sometimes people really do mean something beyond the actual words they express. The thing is, it’s not possible for you to know what that really is, nor is it your responsibility to tease it out. We simply can’t know what any other person is thinking, or what any possible hidden agenda might be behind their actions or words.

So what can we do? If we’re not sure we’re hearing someone correctly or completely, we can ask for clarification. We can take people at their word, and know that it is their responsibility to say what they mean and ask for what they need, not ours to ferret it out by psychic means.

Finally—and most importantly—we can ask ourselves whose voice it is we’re really hearing. That of our boss, our child’s teacher, our spouse? Or is it the fearful whisper of our own inner critic, the one who is scared we don’t work hard enough, aren’t pretty enough, aren’t a good enough parent, don’t measure up?

The next time you hear something other than what was actually said, ask yourself who’s really doing the singing here? And if it’s that scared child within yourself humming an angry, frightened little tune, give him or her a hug and thanks for the input, but let them know you’ll be taking it from here.

So if the lyrics are depressing and the song isn’t working for you, change the station. Better yet. shuffle your inner iPod and find a better tune, one whose words make your heart soar and whose beat gets you up on your feet and dancing.

Now, excuse me. I gotta go find some guy and kiss him.

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