Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Misheard English and Folk Songs

Here's another tricky phrase: "Dog eat dog," usually used in "It's a dog-eat-dog world," meaning that the competition is fierce and only the strongest and fittest survive. Thanks to Lucy and Walter, we've realized that the pronunciation sounds almost exactly like "doggy dog." "It's a doggy dog world" doesn't convey any meaning at all, really, but we can understand how someone might hear it that way.

Which reminds me of a folk tune, Sarah the Whale. (For another intriguing exploration of language, left as an exercise for the reader, do a web search for "Sara whale teeth miles" (some of the more-common words) and see how many variants there are.) One of the stanzas as I learned it is:

When she smiles, she just shows teeth for miles and miles,
and tonsils, and spare ribs, and things too fierce to mention.


I was surprised about 4 years ago, when perusing some of the lyric variants, to discover that one site spelled it out as "and things to fierce dimension," I suppose along the lines of "to [a] great degree". Once again, "to mention" and "dimension" can sound amazingly alike, especially when sung.

There are plenty of sites (and books) about misheard lyrics, as discussed in my 2005 post, The Lady Mondegreen Sings Christmas Carols.