13. Mondegreens and airyplanes

Posted on 18/01/2017

I dont know if you have heard of the ‘Mondegreen’. It fills a hole in the dictionary which was only noticed in 1954 when a lady wrote an article in a magazine like Vanity Fair. As a child she said, her mother (a Scot) had sung her old ballads. One of  these was a bout the ?Earl of Dunbar who had been fatally injured in battle and then his devoted wife had come to lay him out on the green grass of the battlefield. The lady who wrote the article said that, as a child, she could not take the phrase ‘laid him on the green’ and so made it ‘mondegreen’ thus altering the sad ending of the song. The term ‘mondegreen’ is now used to describe a misheard word or phrase.

It probably only occurs in later life, but when you hear a song again you suddenly realise you’ve been wrong all these years. there are quite a few Elvis lyrics of which that’s true for me. But the only lyric I can call to mind when writing this comes from one of the 1930’s songs of an entertainer called Frank Crumit.

My mother had his old 78 RPM records. In the song ‘A Gary Caballero’ (old meaning) he sang:

‘she took me to her home to nestle

her room was as big as a castle

I said why so much space

and she said in case

 you get fresh I need room to wrestle’


My childhood memory of the lyric was ‘she took me to her home Janetho’

which apart from removing the romance from it involves a place name that so far as I know does not exist. Crumit (who died at the beginning of the war) wrote many good songs of that type. Another was ‘I’m a specialist’ (and a dashed durned good one too) in

which he sang the wonderful lines:

‘I make necessary things,

not airyplanes that flies around in rings’

This sounds odd to modern ears, for whom ‘airyplanes’ are indeed necessary things. But in the 1930’s they were only a luxury mode of travel for the rich, and most people would only have seen them at air shows, flying around in rings, trying to popularise air travel. It is ironic that wars did the job of popularising passenger travel. In the 30’s the main passenger plane was a converted Handley Page bomber, which had a remarkable safety record: never crashing.

Here is the largest airliner in the world, cruising at 135 miles per hour

After the second World War of course there were also lots of spare planes and things like the DC 3 carried on as passenger planes into the present century in out of the way places like the Pacific.

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