Saturday, September 09, 2006

Get your olun picks here

In the wonderfully innocent days before London was named host city for the 2012 Olympics I saw Tessa ‘the scowl’ Jowell give a cringing ‘back the bid’ speech. You can only look at the scowl for so long before nausea sets in. For me the threshold is around four seconds so my gaze wandered off in the direction of a big screen, in front of which sat a typist with a laptop. She had her work cut out trying to distinguish actual words in the speech and put them in some kind of order. She wasn’t helped by the fact that the predictive text recognition appeared to be set to Serbo-Croat.

The words ‘olun picks’ suddenly appeared on the screen instead of olympics. The next forty-five minutes were happily passed as I jotted down all the other misinterpretations and then drove myself semi-mad trying to remember the name for words or combinations of words that are misheard. It wasn’t until I was on the 30 bus going home some six hours later that I remembered they’re called mondegreens. I was then able to spend the remainder of the journey seeing how many I could recall. I thought God’s name was Harold until I was old enough to read The Lord’s Prayer for myself.

Mondegreens are far more likely to occur in music than in political speeches because singers are prone to mumbling and were probably drunk when they recorded the song and it doesn’t matter how big the artist or the sound system, you can never hear the vocals at a concert. In full awareness of these facts, singers sometimes vary the lyrics on purpose just to make their drab lives more interesting. If your job consisted of doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same order every day for fifty or so years, you’d probably do likewise.

The word mondegreen was coined by Sylvia Wright in a 1954 essay in which she recalled how she’d misheard the line ‘and laid him on the green’ from Scottish ballad The Bonnie Earl O’Murray’ as ‘and Lady Mondegreen.’ Some lovely mondegreens are reproduced below.

the girl with colitis goes by – the girl with kaleidoscope eyes

I can see those spider veins – I can see those fighter planes

I want a piece of bacon – I wanna be sedated

his car has four-wheel drive – his car is warm inside

no Dukes of Hazzard in the classroom – no dark sarcasm in the classroom

last night I dreamt of some bagels - last night I dreamt of San Pedro

you make me eat....but I'm on a diet - you make me weak, I'm gonna die

police have a dog - Feliz Navidad

take your pants down, and make it happen - take your passion and make it happen

(From http://www.uh.edu/~mbarber/mondegreens.html)

Anyway, this blog was going to be about the olun picks, I mean the olympics. As I was stumbling around Hackney Marshes this afternoon on my daily geriatric jog, it occurred to me that it’s all going to disappear quite soon as the park gets subsumed into the olympic site. You wonder if it’s going to be worth it as by 2012 it is unlikely there will be an athlete alive who can pass a drug test. Perhaps we should use our hosting of the olympics to change the whole ethos of the games. Watching really fit people run around in circles or swim up and down more times than most people can count is not at all interesting. What we should do is get rock stars who have renounced drugs to compete instead. Elton John could partner Eric Clapton in the three-legged race and we could introduce a quad bike event especially for Ozzy Osbourne. I feel much better now. Sweet dreams are made of cheese.

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