I’m sure many of you recognize the line above as coming from the classic “You’re So Vain” song by Carly Simon.
But how many of you know what the last part of that line is?
I always thought the full line was:
“You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself go by.”
If you thought the same thing, you would be wrong. Here’s the actual line:
“You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte.”
When I found this out the other day, my second reaction, after first getting over the shock of being wrong all these years, was ‘what the heck does gavotte mean?’
Here’s the definition, according to Google: gavotte is a medium-paced French dance, popular in the 18th century.
I then thought to myself, if I knew what gavotte meant, and I also knew how to do it, I’d be pretty vain about it as well. The reality, however, is that I don’t want a mirror anywhere near me when I dance.
After realizing I was wrong on some lyrics that I was so sure I knew, I started wondering if there are any other songs I’ve also been singing incorrectly.
As part of my research into this, I discovered that there is actually a word to describe this phenomenon: mondegreen. Mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar, and make some kind of sense.[ American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, writing about how as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as “…and Lady Mondegreen”.
If you’d like to read more about the science behind mondegreens, there was an interesting article in the New Yorker a few years ago. You can read about things like the McGurk Effect and Zipf’s Law.
The article also mentions a hilarious video of Peter Kay doing a standup routine about misheard song lyrics. It’s worth listening to:
Anyway, I set out searching for some mondegreens of my own making. I didn’t go for the easy ones that people often make fun of, such as “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy” or “There’s a bathroom on the right.” (By the way, “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” was originally “Scuse me while I kiss the sky” in the version of the song that Jimi Hendrix wrote and performed. “There’s a bathroom on the right” was “There’s a bad moon on the rise” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.)
Here’s a few lyrics I’ve gotten wrong over the years:
The first one also happens to be from “You’re So Vain”. I always thought the last line in:
You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
was Your topic was Africa.
I had always envisioned this really slick looking guy walking around a yacht telling everyone about his most recent trip to Africa. The actual line creates a very different impression of this guy in my mind now.
Here’s another one, from John Denver’s Back Home Again.
I thought the line Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again
was Yes, it tastes good to be back home again
For the longest time I thought he was singing about how much he liked coming back home for a good home-cooked meal (he does mention supper’s on the stove).
The final one is from Bruce Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light:
“Wrapped up like a douche, another runner in the night.” (when I first heard it I had no idea what he was talking about).
The correct lyrics are:
“Revved up like a Deuce, another runner in the night.” To be honest, I’m not really sure what that means either…
Well, in closing, let’s bring this post full circle by including this great video of Carly singing You’re So Vain. Now when I listen to it, it’s quite easy to hear the words “gavotte” and “apricot”. Knowing the right lyrics gives me a whole new appreciation for the song…