Andrew Wicks

About Andrew Wicks

Andrew Wicks is a country boy with a penchant for movies and sport. After a few years working in health, he decided he'd rather work with today's youth and studied arts and education in rural NSW. His main interests are religion, health and lairy shirts.

Oprah got no style: The science behind misheard song lyrics

As I’ve learned through frequent bitter experiences, what I think song lyrics are, they frequently are not. Science explains why the brain misses the point. But my heart still hurts.


Stacey come back, and be mine.

A lover’s hopeful/hopeless plea, dipped in instant relatability, seasoned by the salt of grating life experience, baked to perfection by the steady hand of whoever felt the loss. Except, for fuck’s sake, the song doesn’t even say that. As I found out this morning, over the saddest breakfast of my silly existence (on par with the one when I discovered Santa was only as real as my mum’s bank account would allow), the actual lyric for this song I’ve emotionally shackled myself to is: “She keeps on passin’ me by.” Similar, but worlds apart. What happened to Stacey?

Does she even exist?

These twisty, nonsense earworms are called ‘Mondegreens’. The term was popularised by essayist Sylvia Wright, who recalled a certain book of poems her mother read to her. The most relevant verse is: Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, Oh, where hae ye been? / They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray, And Lady Mondegreen.

Importantly, Lady Mondegreen never actually existed, as the original line of the verse was “and laid him on the green.” Wright christened these misheard lyrics, which often make the poem or song better for the listener, “mondegreens.” The title caught on.

The engineer of a study on word recognition, Dr Wei Ji Ma, an Associate Professor of Neurology no less, claims that you can misinterpret things if you aren’t looking at the speaker while they’re speaking.

Now, unroll your eyes, and unclick that tongue. But seemingly they only discovered conversation in 2009. Yes, it seems obvious, but the pickle stems from the nature of how we interpret sound. It is a two-step process. First, there is the auditory perception itself: the sound waves making their way through your ear and into your brain. The second step is the part where your brain takes the noise and imbues it with significance; “That was a car alarm”, “That was the ‘c’ word” etc.

However, the theory of Dr Ma is easily disproven with a single viewing of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, as I still have no idea what 80% of the lyrics are.

You figure it out.



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