The Red and the Mondegreen

Misheard lyrics to Christmas songs are immortalized as mondegreens.


The term ‘mondegreen’ — representing a series of words resulting from the mishearing of a statement or song lyric — is generally attributed to Sylvia Wright, who is credited with coining the neologism in a 1954 Harper’s column. Ms. Wright was chagrined to discover that for many years she had misunderstood the last line of the first stanza in the Scottish folk ballad “The Bonny Earl of Murray,” which reads:

“Forget about the new trend in films, Otis ... there’ll be no nude shepherds in this Christmas pageant!” - Grin and Bear It • 1972Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands,

Oh! Where ha’e ye been:

They ha’e slain the Earl of Murray,

And they laid him on the Green.

Ms. Wright misheard this stanza as:

Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands,

Oh! Where ha’e ye been:

They ha’e slain the Earl of Murray,

And Lady Mondegreen.

From the disappearance of Sylvia Wright’s tragic heroine, Lady Mondegreen, came the term for describing unconventional interpretations or understandings of oral repetition, usually in the form of song lyrics.

Christmas carols and other holiday songs, rife as they are with seldom-heard words and phrasings and clever wordplay, are fertile fields for the sowing of mondegreens — especially when children, with their limited vocabularies, are involved. (Mondegreens are based upon a genuine misunderstanding of lyrics, a distinctly different phenomenon than the deliberate creation of parodic lyrics such as “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg,” or “We three kings of Orient are; tried to smoke a rubber cigar.”)

The Christmas Song

Deck the Halls

Feliz Navidad

The First Noel

Frosty the Snowman

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Good King Wenceslas

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

Jingle Bells

Joy to the World

O Holy Night

Oh Come, All Ye Faithful

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town

Silent Night

Sleigh Ride

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We Three Kings

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night

White Christmas

Winter Wonderland

Say that again...

Festivals of Light