Sunday, 25 September 2011

Me ears are alight

Last month I blogged on illusions, inspired by a Bad Astronomy blog entry on the "Flashed face distortion effect". In it I mentioned an aural illusion: the McGurk effect, where you perceive one of three different sounds, depending on whether you listen only, watch only, or do both.

Well, Bad Astronomy has a different example of the McGurk effect, from the BBC Horizon programme. This time, you perceive one of two different sounds, determined by the lip movements you observe whilst listening.

Interesting, of course, but what prompted my follow-up blog entry was a related comment, about mishearing song lyrics. This is accompanied to a link to O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, here transcribed as "oh, four tuna", and including lines like "some men like cheese", "Vimto can taste of kidneys", and more. Although one or two of the hypothesised lines are a little strained, the majority fit beautifully, giving a highly surreal reading.

This reminded me of a TV advert from the late 1980s (for Maxell batteries), on mishearing the lyrics to Desmond Dekker's The Israelites. Naturally, it's on You Tube.

Maxell Israelites advert

A misheard song lyric (or line of poetry, or whatever) is known as a Mondegreen. Before I ever knew the name given to this effect, I'd come across it in Maurice Dodd's Perishers cartoon strip: Baby Grumplin's teddy-bear is called "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear". There are lots of other examples I've heard from people over the years: "The ants are my friends", "Lucy in disguise", "Beelzebub has a devil for a sideboard", "Reverend Blue Jeans", and more.

Nowadays, the web makes it a lot easier to find the actual lyrics, of course. But if you don't know you've misheard it, there's no reason to look it up. (And let's face it, many lyrics are frankly unintelligible even if you know what the words are, so incomprehension is no real reason to suspect a mishearing.) Yet even after hearing a song a gazillion times, I can still sometimes suddenly hear it differently, and go, "Oh, so that's what that line is!" I doubt that my ears are more alight to the words: maybe it's because CDs are higher quality than cassette tapes and radios, even without the excuse of fading batteries?

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