Saturday, May 05, 2007

Mondegreens and such

I was thinking more about misleading labels today and remembered one from my childhood. My mother always had two little pots of cream on her dressing table: one was Pond's Cold Cream and the other was called Vanishing Cream. I was too terrified to open the Vanishing Cream and I used to hide it for fear of my mother disappearing.

That, naturally, led me on to other memories of words we misunderstood as children. (Not that I understand even now what vanishing cream was about!) Most of the mondegreens from my childhood were church-related. My little brother came home from Infant school one day really excited, "Do you know what we learned today? When we die we can all play in a pear tree before we go into heaven."

One of my sisters had her unique version of the prayer for the dead, her 'let their petrol light shine upon them' was far more meaningful than 'perpetual light.' And at mealtimes, the same sister entertained us all by giving thanks for the gifts she was about to receive 'from thy mountain' instead of 'bounty'.

I don't know if there is a term for the way that young children cope with situations they don't have the vocabulary for but there should be. My daughter, aged about two and a half, had piled all of her toys on her bed; when she wanted to go for a nap, she pulled me into her bedroom, pointed at the pile of toys and said, "Fill my bed undone!"

One child, who was a regular visitor, wanted to tell us about a trip he had made three days earlier but couldn't think how to express it: "Not yesterday, not yesterday but yesterday" was clear enough for us.

I have a great store of anecdotes from the misunderstandings that arose among my deaf pupils, usually from taking words or situations literally. My favourite was when Elizabeth went to meet PM Margaret Thatcher at Number Ten. She was shown around the formal rooms and saw the dining table being set for a banquet; a manservant was going around the table with an iron, ensuring there were no creases in the tablecloth before putting out the cutlery etc. When I asked Elizabeth about her visit later she said, "Mrs Thatcher was very nice and she had the biggest ironing board in the world."


  1. I remember my early days when attending church I knew the prayer book off by heart, purely through repetition. Although, towards the end of the service when the congregation would say "Thanks be to God" I would be saying "Thanks Peter God" while looking with pride at my father, Peter, in the choir stalls!

    It was some years later when I was actually reading the prayer book that I noticed my mistake. "Ahhh," I remember thinking. "That makes more sense!"

  2. Welcome, Ben. God is known by many names!


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