Thursday, November 22, 2012

Something Wrong in Norway

My grandfather had an amazing brain full of great jokes for every occasion.  Grandma could never keep up with him; she could never remember punchlines and frequently managed to mangle even the most common quotations.  She was trying to come up with the quote from Hamlet, the one about something rotten in Denmark, when she blurted out "Something wrong in Norway."  We never let her forget it; Grandma was our own Mrs. Malaprop.

Grandma tried to tell a joke once about a worm named Motor and the punchline was supposed to be "Out bored Motor!"   She got all mixed up and wondered why no one laughed at the end when she finished with "Out Motor bored!"  I think after that she left the jokes to Grandpa.

My mom, on the other hand, had a famous mondegreen.  She lived in South Buffalo as a child and misheard the line from the hymn "Jesus is seeking your humble heart" as "Jesus is sneaking through Humboldt Park."  She always wondered why Jesus would have had a need to do that and found herself looking over her shoulder whenever she had to walk through the park. 

My first mondegreen occurred when I was little and, listening to Up on the Rooftop, proudly declared that "Reindeer don't have paws, they have hooves."  For many years I also misheard the Winter Wonderland lyrics, "In the meadow we can build a snowman, Then pretend that he is Parson Brown," as "In the meadow we can build a snowman, Then pretend that he is parse and brown," which is really odd considering my dad was a preacher and I did not recognize the word parson.  I spent years wondering why a presumably white snowman would be parse and brown (I pictured a sort of  Charlie Brown scraggly snowman).

Only this week I discovered a mondegreen which has been rattling around in my brain since the early seventies.  My favorite album in the whole world is Fraser & DeBolt (with Ian Guenther) and in the song Waltze of the Tennis Players, one line had always puzzled me.  The correct lyric is "The cowboys are sprinkling mycelium. Mushrooms keep growing in every new bootprint."  I suppose the line about the mushrooms should have been my clue, but I always heard the word mycelium as two words, my celium, and I could not figure it out for the life of me. What the heck was a celium?  Many thanks to Allan Fraser for publishing the lyrics to all of the songs on the album. Now I can sleep.

I guess as the third generation (that I know of anyway) of proud perpetrators of malaprops, mispronunciations and mondegreens, it makes sense that I have a collection of not only my own family's aural bloopers, but also a selection of doozies I have heard on the radio and seen online. Some are unfortunately all too common:  road to hoe instead of row to hoe, bomb fire instead of bonfire, drug attics instead of drug addicts.   A recent addition to my collection is innocent bi-standard instead of innocent bystander.

A fill-in announcer on CBC once pronounced the northern Ontario town Attawapiskat as "Ottawa Piss Cat" and I can never hear any story about that town's terrible tragedies without thinking of that mispronunciation.

But these two are my all time favorites:  A teenager breathlessly described her new boyfriend as a "diamond in the rust."  Another young lady solemnly included in her narrative the phrase "a canary in a mine field."

We are all in good company here, so stay tuned.  I am sure there will always be more things wrong in Norway.