Ah, yes, the Lady Mondegreen dancing with the devil

Back in 1954 writer Sylvia Wright proposed a new word: mondegreen, meaning a mishearing or misinterpretation of a word or phrase in a poem or a song. Her idea for the name came about because when she was a child her mother frequently read to her from a book of poetry, and one of her favorites was a specific Scottish ballad that referred to the murder of an Earl by his enemies “and they laid him on the green” — in other words, put his body on display as a warning to other enemies. But Wright had always thought the line was “and the Lady Mondegreen.” So she had always thought that two people had been murdered.

One of my oldest friends used to tell how back in the day her Mother had thought that the Bee Gee’s hit from 1977, “More Than a Woman,” was actually “Bald-headed Woman.” And I’ve written before about how I had completely misunderstood a lot of the lyrics of the song Doris Day was most famous for singing.

I listen to music a lot. I have literally thousands of playlists, and I like to have background music when I’m writing, or working, or doing just about anything. Particularly in my writing playlists, some songs appear again and again. There are some songs that I think of as themes for some of my characters, for instance. Others just really go well with certain kinds of subplots. And the song is one that is currently in my draft NaNoWriMo 2019 playlist, which I’ve been fiddling with for a bit over a week.

Sometimes I like a song really well, but there are a few of the lyrics I’m not sure of. You can’t hear some words as clearly as the others for various reasons. For instance, there is a song that has been in a bunch of playlists for two or three years, now, “Dancin’ with the Devil” by Lindsay Perry. And I like the song quite a bit, but there is one line that I’m slightly unsure of. In the chorus there’s this sentence, “Cause there’s nothing much more for me to do, but go dancin’ with the devil in these old soled shoes.” Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me.

Except, I’m not sure what “old soled shoes” means, exactly. I mean, all styles of shoes have soles, and it the soles are old, one presumes the entire shoe is old, right? It’s just a weird phrase. There is a brand of children’s shoes called “Old Soles” but they are children’s shoes (and expensive), so not really in keeping with the rest of the song where the character portrayed in the lyrics is at the end of their rope because they made a deal with the devil that has turned sour as those deals always do.

I kept thinking that I must be misunderstanding her, so I finally decided to see if lyrics to the song were posted anywhere.

They are. But it soon becomes clear that every site hosting them is copying them from a single site where a fan with really bad hearing has made a guess at the lyrics. I say this because there are lines that are quite clear and unmistakeable earlier in the song that this attempt at transcription gets wrong. For instance, the line in the song “It was the devil in disguise with his hazy eyes, I should’ve known better from all his lies.” But the web lyrics render it as “He was the devil in disguise with his eyes of ice. Should I know better from how is last” Which makes absolutely no sense at all.

Plus there are other, worse mondegreens later.

The line I am slightly uncertain of they render as “go dancin’ with the devil in its handsome shoes” which I know is wrong, because, for one, everywhere else in the song the devil is referred to as he/his, not it. And frankly, I can’t imagine how anyone could get handsome out of the phonemes there.

Except…

Well, I’m not completely sure I’m right about that one bit of lyric, so do I really have a right to judge someone else who thinks it’s something that, to me, makes no sense at all?

Maybe you can hear it better than me.

Lindsay Perry on Sonny’s Porch / Dancing With The Devil:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

7 responses to “Ah, yes, the Lady Mondegreen dancing with the devil”

    • fontfolly says :

      I had already considered the homonyms: sole/soled vs soul/souled vs sold…. but I’ve also never heard of soul shoes as a figure of speech, and Google failed to turn up that song. Parker Graham’s (original writer of the song) music in the seventies was heavily influenced by American R&B, Reggae, and Soul, so maybe he picked up the phrase from that genre or was making a reference to Soul music?

      Elseweb, someone pointed out that they have heard the phrase “new-soled shoes” because at least back when cobblers and leather repair shops were much more prevalent in cities than they are today, it was often cheaper to get new soles for old shoes than to buy a new pair of shoes, and therefore, if I am correct that it’s “old soled shoes” it would be a reference to how down on their luck the narrator of the song is. And it’s not an unreasonable suggestion.

  1. cdwoodbury says :

    Sometime ask me about a QA Lead project i did for a Karaoke type game where in doing research corrections, Wikipedia was unacceptable as a resource because “anyone could submit” but the lyrics were clearly being sourced by these types of lyrics sites.

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