The Spirit of McGuyver Made Me Do It

By May 6, 2009 language No Comments

Way too often I misunderstand what other people are saying. I would wonder if my hearing was failing, but I’ve always been this way. Although I have no evidence to support it, I think it’s my creative brain’s way of filling in portions of conversations that I missed. (Wishful thinking, anyhow!)

Whatever the reason, my ability to fill-in-the-blanks for what others are saying provides some good laughs.

Here’s a good example. I was out to dinner with my husband one evening, and we saw a couple who know my hubby’s sister and her husband. After the usual pleasantries, these folks inquired of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law; then this guy bounded with enthusiasm, “I bet [brother-in-law] is so great, isn’t he? Isn’t he great?”

I paused, thinking, “Well, yes, he is a great guy . . . but what an odd thing for one guy to gush on about in regard to another guy.” I decided to confirm the question: “Great? You want to know if he’s great?” The guy laughed and said, “Gray! He’s really gray, I bet, because the last time I saw him he was sporting quite a bit of gray already.” Oh, gray, not great—that makes much more sense.

Sadly, these sorts of misunderstandings are quite regular for me (confirming my inner-dork nature).

Many of my most memorable and more humorous misunderstandings come from song lyrics—which I think might be more common among the population in general. These are referred to as mondegreens, which Webster’s defines as: a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung (“very close veins” is a mondegreen for “varicose veins”).

My first remembrance of a mondegreen in action was in the silly 1986 movie Jumpin’ Jack Flash starring Whoopie Goldberg. She plays a woman unwittingly embroiled in an espionage scheme who has discovered a secret message in that Rolling Stones song, so she plays and replays the cryptic tune to figure out the lyrics. After many frustrating attempts, she shouts, “Mick, Mick, Mick! Speak English!”

Since then, I have developed many of my own mondegreens, providing just as much laughter and often causing me to wonder if the words I am hearing are in another language.

Jennifer Knapp’s song “Romans” holds a few mondegreens that have stuck with me for years. (This song is from her Kansas CD released in 1998! It’s a keeper though, and I still listen to it.) In one line she says, “Then surely Lord,” but I thought she said, “Then chilly boy.” I had no clue how that related to the grace of God but I couldn’t get past what I thought I heard to grasp what she was truly saying.

A friend of mine has a mondegreen for “Romans” too. Jennifer sings about the power of God’s grace: “With the Spirit as my guide;” but my friend thought Jennifer said, “With the spirit of McGuyver.” With the phrase “McGuyver it” referring to the creative use of common items to find a solution to your problem, that is rather catchy . . . but that would also demean the value of God’s grace that Jennifer is so heartily proclaiming in the rest of the song. (We continue to use the phrase “spirit of McGuyver” to sum up the notion of works-based religion as well as any situation that leaves us feeling like we’ve walked into a movie that’s half over.)

Another mondegreen of mine comes from Sara Groves’s song “Tent in the Center of Town,” from her Conversations CD. I’ve listened to this song for years, knowing that the phrase I was singing for a certain line was not likely correct, but never remembered to look it up. The song is all about a revival coming to a town and how all people are invited. I thought Sara was saying, “If you wear blue jeans He is calling you.” I figured she was letting people know they could attend the revival as is, no need to spiff up first. But what Sara is actually saying is, “If you are blue Jesus is calling you.” Well, that’s nice too.

Have you encountered any mondegreens lately? Please tell me I’m not the only one with such a hearing disorder.

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