A mondegreen is a word or phrase resulting from a mishearing of another word or phrase, especially in a song or poem, usually with an amusing result. This term was coined in 1954 by Sylvia Wright, U.S. writer, from the Scottish ballad ‘The Bonny Earl of Murray’, in which the line “laid him on the green” can be misheard as Lady Mondegreen.
On the other hand, an eggcorn is a word or phrase that is a seemingly logical alteration of another word or phrase that sounds similar and has been misheard or misinterpreted, as ‘old wise tale’ for ‘old wives’ tale’. Its origins are with reference to a mishearing or misinterpretation of the word acorn and thinking they said “eggcorn” which is how this phenomenon got its name. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum coined this label in the early 2000s to describe words or phrases that are misheard and consequently reform into a new word or phrase. Unlike mondegreens, eggcorns generally retain the same meaning as the original form.
A related word is malapropism, the unintentional misuse of a word by confusion with one of similar sound, especially when creating a ridiculous effect, as in “I am not under the affluence of alcohol.” By extension, the habit of misusing words in this manner, after Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s play “The Rivals” (1775), a character who misused words, surely from malapropos, but its origins date back to 1660-70 from the French “mal à propos” badly (suited) to the purpose.
The number of linguistic features that change due to a simple mishearing are numerous. The word apron, for instance, used to begin with the letter n, but the audible difference between “a napron” and “an apron” is so infinitesimal that speakers removed the n entirely, assuming it was part of the word “an” rather than “napron”. The word “orange” has a similar story, as doscads of other words and phrases across numerous other languages.
- “Mondegreen”, dictionary.com, web, consulted: 2016.07.02. URL: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/mondegreen/.
- “Eggcorn”, dictionary.com, web, consulted: 2016.07.02. URL: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/eggcorn.
- “Malapropos”, dictionary.com, web, consulted: 2016.07.03. URL: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/malapropos/.