POSTED BY: Louise Hawes
During a recent visit with my family, I watched my two-year old granddaughter take a bath in her new favorite phrase: whoopsie daisy. If she dropped something, she said it, and saying it made her eyes larger than ever, her mouth smile wide around those last lazy syllables. If she fell, or stood up, or found something that had been lost: whoopsie daisy. If she saw something that looked lopsided or silly: whoopsie daisy. The joy, the delicious relish with which she pulled out this all-purpose word condiment, was contagious. Soon were all using it, for everything. We named things Whoopsie Daisy. We sang Whoopsie Daisy. We used it as encouragement, in sympathy, to express appreciation. It sounds good everywhere, always. It’s just plain fun to say.
Whoopsie Daisy (originally whoops-a-daisy) has gotten me thinking. About how often I choose a word based on its aural/poetic satisfaction, other things being equal. If I’ve got a choice, for example, between barbarous and cruel, give me barbarous every time! And felonious? Hmmmm. Luscious on the tongue, and much more satisfying than illegal. Decrepitude and dilapidation are two more juicy sounds that sing songs about less than savory concepts.
And speaking of how the sound of words can often be more attractive than their meaning, I guess I should mention “Silent Night.” When I was my granddaughter’s age and listened to folks singing the line, “Sleep in Heavenly peace,” I heard, “Sleep in Heaven, Leapies.” I assumed Leapies were something like cherubs, and that they ran around a lot, played hard, and their parents had to be forceful about putting them to bed.
The word for this sort of mishearing is Mondegreen, a lovely word all by itself. It was coined by an American writer, Sylvia Wright, who misheard a line of a ballad: While the balladeer sang, “They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray, and laid him on the green;” Wright heard “They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray and Lady Mondegreen.” Whoopsie Daisy! One earl and one lady down. More grizzly, sure. But a lot more fun to say!
Mondegreen’s of your own to share?