April 7, 2009
According to the fount of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, 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, due to near homophony, in a way that yields a new meaning to the phrase’. It was apparently coined by an American writer called Sylvia Wright, who published an essay in Harper’s Magazine in 1954 on mishearing the last line of a 17th century ballad called ‘The Bonnie Earl O’ Murray’:
- Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
- Oh, where hae ye been?
- They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
- And Lady Mondegreen.
where the fourth line is supposed to read “And laid him on the green.” A favourite is a radio phone in, in which a lady caller asked for Mulligan’s Tyre by Wings to please be played.
The library has fallen fowl of mondegreenic mishearings too, having been called the Scottish Poultry Library more than once. Taking pastoral poetry to a whole new level, surely? And, when architect Malcolm Fraser was applying for the necessary water allowances for our new building, the man at the water board was concerned by the lowly guesstimate. ‘You’ll need more than that,’ he said, ‘what with all the throwing, not to mention the cleaning up afterwards.’ A perplexed conversation ensued, in which Malcolm vowed no poets or otherwise would be thrown anywhere. The water man had taken us for the Scottish Pottery Library.
Sometimes, we are simply the Scottish Poetry League. The day SPL is football second and poetry first will be a fine one.