From the 'gekko,' he meant 'know a fence'
One of my recent college students turned in an opinion paper where she had intended to say, "From the get go, it was obvious that the speaker was going to tell it like it is with no holds barred."
What she wrote, however, was, "From the gekko, it was obvious …"
I commented on her paper that the tiny animal that's the central figure in the Geico insurance commercials has nothing to do with that phrase.
As many of us have over the years, she had fallen prey to a mondegreen, the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase. These situations generally occur where we have been using a phrase orally but never have seen it in printed form nor have we ever committed it to printed form, or, if we have, no one has bothered to correct us.
My brother-in-law, who also teaches at the college level, contributed one he had received from a student who had complained about the amount of work she had to do.
"Know a fence, Mr. Macaluso, but I think you are expecting too much work …"
She meant, of course, "no offense."
I remember with great embarrassment when I was in third grade and during a question-and-answer session, I asked my teacher, Miss Bogel: Who is Richard Stands?
I could see the puzzlement on her face.
"How do you know this person?" she asked me.
Now I was confused, because I figured this man must be a great statesman, maybe even more important than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. After all, we spoke his name every day when we said the Pledge of Allegiance.
Miss Bogel was really stumped now and asked me to recite the pledge, which I did happily and energetically.
"…And to the Republic, for Richard Stands, one nation, indivisible …"
My classmates and Miss Bogel burst out laughing, after which she set me straight: The line is "for which it stands," not "for Richard Stands."
I became an instant fan of mondegreens, even though what I said wouldn't have a name until nearly a decade later.
Here are some of my favorites that I have accumulated over the years:
• Another one from the Pledge: "With liver, tea and justice for all." (With liberty and justice for all.)
• From The Lord's Prayer: "Our Father, Who art in heaven/Harold be Thy name." (…hallowed be Thy name)
• From the 23rd Psalm: "Surely, good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life." (Surely goodness and mercy …)
The name mondegreen was introduced by author Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Atlantic magazine article.
As a child, Wright had heard the lyrics of The Bonny Earl of Murray, a Scottish ballad. One line, she thought, says, "Thou have slain the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen."
There is no Lady Mondegreen, Wright found out. The line really is: "Thou have slain the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green."
But the Mondegreen label stuck.
When I was 8 years old, I heard my mother tell a friend that her brother had "very close veins."(varicose veins)
A friend of mine sent me a note congratulating me on being nominated for a Pullet Surprise (Pulitzer Prize) in 1973.
Several years ago during the Christmas season, when she was 6, my granddaughter sang, "Fleas naughty dog." (Feliz Navidad)
As a child, one of my sons sang, "Life is butter dream" as the last line of the round "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
A middle school student, who was taking catechism instruction, referred to Christ as "Cheeses of Nazareth."
Did you know that Davy Crockett was "killed in a bar when he was only 3?" ("killed him a b'ar bear - …)
And you thought Santa had only nine reindeer, counting Rudolph; well, how about, "Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names."
(Bruce Frassinelli, a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School, is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College and lives in Schnecksville.)