Mishear? I hardly knew her

It’s a common thing to hear misquoted song lyrics (perhaps the most famous example is from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “kiss the sky”), but occasionally you hear people mangling English idioms in equally hilarious ways. This is due in part to the heavily idiomatic nature of English.

The technical name for this is a Mondegreen – slightly different from a malapropism (or, when attributed to a certain former president, a Bushism).

Recently a friend was talking about fixing spelling errors in his college thesis as he wrote each chapter, claiming that he wanted to “nip it in the butt”. He didn’t understand why I was laughing so hard. The correct version is “nip it in the bud”, as in pruning plants – to cut it at the bud to stop it from growing again. His version was certainly funnier, but didn’t quite convey the same idea.

I also recently overheard somebody in public saying that something was a “pigment of my imagination”. I didn’t have the heart (or the balls) to correct them.

Perhaps one of the most famous Mondegreens is from a Britney Spears song, If You Seek Amy. The lyric in question goes:

All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy

At first this doesn’t really make much sense, but replace the last four words with their phonetic equivalent, and you get something else entirely:

All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to eff yoo see kay me

She’s a smart one, that Britney.

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