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Misheard lyrics and malapropisms

Hannah Rooke

The Right Lines

We’ve all done it – confused phrases, mixed up letters and let our tongues run off before our brain quite catches up. But did you know these confusions have official names?

Let me explain what’s what, share some of my favourite examples and detail why it’s important to understand the common mistakes for your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and more.

Mondegreen

Definition: A word or phrase (often lyrics) which is misheard or misinterpreted, and changes the meaning. Originates from lyrics of a Scottish ballad which were often misheard ‘Laid him on the green’, became ‘Lady Mondegreen’.

Examples:

  • Stop in the neighbourhood – Stop in the name of love, The Supremes
  • Excuse me when I kiss this guy (Excuse me when I kiss the sky)- Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix
  • There’s a bathroom on the right (There’s a bad moon on the rise) – Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Wash your back (I want you back) – Back for good, Take That
  • Just let me staple the vicar (Just let me state for the record) – We are family, Sister Sledge

Eggcorn

Definition: A substitution based on the similar sound of a word or phrase, often complicated by accent. However, it doesn’t always change the meaning of the word or phrase. Originates from Acorn being misheard as Eggcorn. (A type of malapropism.) 

Examples:

  • Hand-gliding = hang-gliding
  • Damp squid = damp squib
  • Beer can = bacon (Jamaican accent)
  • Doggy-dog world = dog-eat-dog world
  • Escape goat = scapegoat
  • Guide ropes = guy ropes
  • For all intensive purposes = for all intents and purposes.
  • Chester drawers = Chest of drawers

Malapropism

Definition: the unintentional misuse and confusion of a word with a similar sounding one, regularly completely changing the meaning and making absurd. Often used intentionally for humour. Originates from the character Mrs Malaprop, who regularly confused words to hilarious effect in the play The Rivals (1775) by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Examples:

  • The very pineapple of politeness = The very pinnacle of politeness.
  • The President was indited to dinner = The President was invited to dinner.
  • I’m looking for an inferior decorator = I’m looking for an interior decorator.
  • Texas has many electrical votes = Texas has many electoral votes.
  • I’ll be Pacific = I’ll be specific.

Spoonerism

Definition: in speech, when you accidentally swap the first sounds of two words: ‘Wrong load’ instead of ‘long road’. Can often, but not always, change the meaning.

Examples:

  • Wrong load = long road
  • Bowel feast = Foul beast
  • Soap in your hole = Hope in your soul
  • Mean as custard = Keen as mustard
  • Cat flap = Flat cap
  • Keys and Parrots = Peas and carrots
  • Bee tags = Tea bags

Homophone

Definition: more apparent when written. Words with different meanings which sound the same but are spelt differently.

Examples:

  • Write, right
  • Your, you’re
  • There, their, they’re
  • Here, hear
  • Its, it’s

So what? Why is it important to know these?

Well, the technical terms aren’t that crucial, but the examples are. In any marketing, communication or discourse, you’re presenting yourself, your brand, your message etc so, if you want to present a professional, expert and detailed image, it’s key that you double-check these common mistakes to avoid embarrassing situations. Or, you could always use the mistakes as a good ice-breaker.

SEO

It’s particularly useful to be aware of eggcorns for SEO. Many people will search using the wrong phrase as they don’t realise it’s wrong – so, it’s key that you include some of the common ones which relate to your keywords.

Have a look at these examples for Google ads and search results which have used the common mistakes within their SEO plans.

However, while it’s important to be cautious, it’s vital you do your research. Google does automatically correct a few spellings so it might already be doing the hard work for you. And, if the frequency of searches is low for the mistakes, there’s no value in building a plan to allow for the mistakes.

Google Trends or your Google Search Console are valuable allies in your planning. The adage is true – information really is power.

The benefit of creative copy

Often creative copywriters (like me) will play with language and employ the various tools of their trade, like the above, in a way to grab attention or tell a story.

I enjoy a pun as much as the next person and they often take advantage of homophones or malapropisms. When they’re simple, they work beautifully in advertising and marketing. But a word of warning – if they don’t come easily, they’ll feel laboured and awkward, and be less effective for the audience.

You can judge the following examples for yourself.

Examples – The good, the bad and the ugly

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about how our brains get addled with the beautifully confusing English language, and appreciated these examples.

Do you have any other examples you’d like to share?

Originally published on the-right-lines.co.uk

  • Air Asia
  • Bread Zeppelin
  • Lego ad
  • Lord of the Rinse
  • McDonalds ad
  • Natural History Museum ad
  • UPS ad
  • Zenith Time ad
  • Chester Drawers - Wayfair
  • Chester Draws - The Cotswold Company
  • Chester Drawers - Gumtree

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