A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song.
(The word was first used in an essay by American writer Sylvia Wright , “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1954.[
In the essay, Wright described how, as a young girl, she misheard the last line of the first stanza from the 17th-century ballad “The Bonny Earl O’Moray”. She wrote:
“When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
The actual fourth line is “And laid him on the green”. Wright explained the need for a new term: “The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.”
One of the most famous examples is in the lyrics to Jimi Hendrix’ song “Purple Haze”. The lyrics are, “Scuse me while I kiss the sky”, but lots of people thought he sang “Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.)