Philip Fine discusses research revealing the factors behind how well we understand song lyrics
Have you ever wondered why you can’t always understand the words someone is singing? Or why operatic sopranos are so hard to understand? And why the words are usually clearer in folk than in heavy rock?
Sometimes we mishear the lyrics, and this is such a common phenomenon that there’s even a word for it: Mondegreen, coined in 1954, which comes from a mishearing of the ballad line ‘laid him on the green’ as ‘Lady Mondegreen’. Other well-known examples include the hymn line ‘Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear’ (think teddy with a squint) and ‘O Four Tuna’ (‘O Fortuna’ from the start of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana).