Take back the Harley and the mistletoe

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Just in time for the holidays, the concept of the mondegreen reared its comical head.

No, I’m not talking about the traditional holiday greenery that you decorate with at this time of year. I’m talking about the words or phrases that result from mishearing something said or sung – so named because as a child someone misunderstood the words “laid him on the green” when her mother recited a poem. Yes, it’s actually a word and, yes, that’s its origin.

The subject is on my mind after listening to “Say, Say, Say” on the radio the other day. You see, ever since I heard Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney sing that song in 1983 I wondered who Baby Thudeus was.

Surely you know what I’m talking about: “standing here baptized in all my tears, Baby Thudeus ….”

I never could get that line to fit with the rest of the lyrics. Who was this strange child?

Actually, I always knew that something in my interpretation was probably amiss, but at the time the song was released, the World Wide Web did not exist, so it wasn’t easy to research such things. Then, as the years passed, my curiosity dimmed.

But a few days ago, after my radio listening experience, it was rekindled. So I fanned the flames and found the answer.

Thanks to the website kissthisguy.com (“Excuse me while I kiss this guy”/”Excuse me while I kiss the sky”), I’m now no longer clueless. In reality, the words are: “standing here baptized in all my tears, baby, through the years ….”

I guess the tipoff should have been that “through the years” appears earlier in the song as well: “Through the years how can you stand to hear my pleading for you, dear?” But who pays attention to such details?

Truthfully, I still like Baby Thudeus better. Over the 37 years since the song’s release, I have gotten pretty used to the poor child. And at least my interpretation is better than an alternate one: Baby Gluteus.

But I’m digressing from my original intent for this column. Before the holidays are over, I had wanted to drag out some mondegreens from our most beloved Christmas carols. I shared a few last December in another column and, gosh, word must have gotten out because in January the story “This Is Why You Mishear Popular Song Lyrics” ran in the magazine Popular Science. (I didn’t know my reading audience was that large.)

I’ll just present the name of the song and the resulting mondegreen and leave the untangling to you. Now, imagine you’re a child with a limited vocabulary and a notyet-complete view of the world ….

All I Want for Christmas – “take back the Harley and the mistletoe”

Away in a Manger – “no crisps for a bed”; “the catalog glowing; the poor baby wakes”

Deck the Halls – “deck the halls with bras of holly”; “see the grazing mule before us”; “strike the heart, enjoy the florist”

Frosty the Snowman – “with a corncob pipe and a butt and nose”

God Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen – “get dressed, ye married gentlemen; let nothing through this May”

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing – “joyful oily nations, rise; join the triumph of disguise; with the jelly toast proclaim”

Jingle Bells – “dashing through the snow, on a one-horse soap and hay”; “bells are ‘bout to ring, making spareribs bright”

O, Come, All Ye Faithful – “O come, holly faithful”; “sing, choirs of angels; sing on eggs all stationed”

Winter Wonderland – “later on, we’ll perspire, as we drink by the fire.”

Regarding that last mondegreen: It might not be a bad idea, so … Cheers! And Happy New Year!

Sallie Rose Hollis is a Union Parish native, retired Louisiana Tech associate professor of journalism and Ruston resident. She can be reached via email at sallierose@mail.com.