Lady Mondegreen meets Barbie

A few years ago when my children were much younger and my wife was at home she decided to have classical singing lessons to give herself an outlet.

One song she learnt was the Handel song, Ombra ma fui (translated as Never was a shade), (see umbrage). The chorus goes:

Ombra mai fu (Never was a shade)
di vegetabile, (of any plant)
cara ed amabile, (dearer and more lovely)
soave più. (or more sweet.)

My daughter, a preschooler at the time, thought the song was a bit awful because she heard the words “cara ed amabile” as “I ate a Barbie leg”. This is our family’s mondegreen.

A mondegreen is a term coined by Sylvia Wright in a story published in Harper’s Magazine in 1954, The Death of Lady Mondegreen. Wright, when she was a little girl, believed that the first verse of the 17th-century ballad “The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray” that her mother read to her was:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

Wright was devastated as an adult to find the real final line of the verse was  “And laid him on the green”. Her faithful and beautiful Lady Mondegreen who had died in the arms of her Lord had now ceased to exist even in the imagination. Wright invented the term, mondegreen to describe the misheard lyric of a song or verse. Meanwhile, at our house we still sing about eating Barbie legs.