The Wordery:


Lady Mondegreen..? Lady Mondegreen is another woman-of-note who gave rise to a literary term. Yet just like Mrs Malaprop she never really existed. Or did she? Just who was Lady Mondegreen and why is she famous in certain etymological circles? Who was the woman who gave birth to her? And what does etymological mean..?

Have you ever listened to a song and got the lyrics wrong, much to the amusement of others!?

To answer these burning questions, we need to go back four hundred years and say hello to James Stewart, the second Earl of Moray who did exist. Well, for a while. Partly in order to keep in with Queen Liz of England (played by Miranda Richardson), King James VI of Scotland appointed the 'Bonnie' Earl to be a commissioner to fight against the Spanish armada, should the bastardos try to land on Scottish shores.

In 1592 the somewhat popular (although probably not with the Spanish) Earl of Moray was murdered at Donibristle Castle by his rival, the jealous Earl of Huntly. Sounds like a complete cu- cad to me. The death was celebrated poignantly in a beautiful Scottish ballad, The Bonnie Earl O' Moray which has been sung down the centuries and is the stuff of misty-eyed folklore:

Ye Hielan's an' ye Lowlan's, O, where have ye been?
They hae slain the Earl of Moray, And layd 'im on the green

He was a braw gallant, And he rode at the ring
An' the bonnie Earl of Moray, O, he micht hae been the king!

O, lang may his lady, Look frae the castle Doune
Ere she see the Earl of Moray, Come soundin' through the toun.

Now way be to thee, Huntly, And wherefore did ye sae?
I bade you bring him wi' you, But forbade you him to slay

He was a braw gallant, And he play'd at the ball
An' the Bonnie Earl of Moray, Was a flower among them all

Lang may his lady, Look from the Castle Doune
Ere she see the Earl of Moray, Come soundin' through the toun.

Earl of MurrayCenturies later, the noted writer Sylvia Wright wrote in Harper's magazine in 1954, how she had thought that the first verse of this ballad contained the words:

"Ye Highlands, and ye Lawlands, Oh where have you been? They have slain the Earl of Murray, And the Lady Mondegreen.."

Wright envisaged Lady Mondegreen as a woman with dark curls and a green dress, her throat pierced by an arrow as she lay at the Earl's side, holding his hand.

Hence this term has come to designate the (often humerous) mishearing of lyrics in a song.

For future reading, the website (based on a mondegreen of Jimi Hendrix's song, Purple Haze) contains a collection of misheard lyrics.



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