It’s Follow-Up Friday: So Long, Yogi edition

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today I’d like to return to the subject of wordplay!

There are certain names that are instantly associated with wordplay:

  • William Archibald Spooner and his spoonerisms, like “Is the bean dizzy?” instead of “Is the dean busy?”
  • Sam Weller and his Wellerisms, like “‘Simply remarkable,'” said the teacher when asked his opinion about the new dry-erase board.” (Quite similar to Tom Swifty and his puns.)
  • Sylvia Wright and her mondegreens, like “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” for “Excuse me while I kiss the sky.”

From authors Lewis Carroll and Jasper Fforde to poet Shel Silverstein and YouTuber Hannah Hart, from characters like Officer Dogberry and Mrs. Malaprop to comedians like George Carlin, Steven Wright, Bo Burnham, and Mitch Hedberg, these names are synonymous with puns, wordplay, and the magic of language.

Sadly, this week, we lost someone noted for his unintentional and hilarious wordplay. This week, Yogi Berra passed away.

You’ve most likely heard at least one of his famous lines:

  • Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.
  • I knew the record would stand until it was broken.
  • Ninety percent of this game is half-mental.
  • We made too many wrong mistakes.

Joe Garagiola captured Yogi’s legacy of memorable quotes perfectly when he said, “Fans have labeled Yogi Berra ‘Mr. Malaprop,’ but I don’t think that’s accurate. He doesn’t use the wrong words. He just puts words together in ways nobody else would ever do.”

And apparently it was a family trait. In The Yogi Book: I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!, there’s a page that features Yogi-isms from every member of his family, proving that nobody is immune to delightful word fumbles from time to time.

Yogi, thanks for all the laughs and all the times you made us look at words differently.

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Listen close! Your ears are playing tricks on you…

I enjoy writing posts about optical illusions because they’re puzzles that engage a solver in very different ways than normal pen-and-paper puzzles do. They rely on perspective trickery, playing on assumptions made by the brain on a level we rarely consider, often causing us to disregard what’s right in front of us.

[Those white circles are the same size…]

But there’s an audio version of this phenomenon as well, the mondegreen.

Mondegreens are misheard lyrics or phrases where homophones or soundalike words get substituted for the actual words. There are a few truly famous ones, like “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” from Jimi Hendrix’s song Purple Haze, or “The girl with colitis goes by” instead of “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes” from The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Now, mondegreens aren’t to be confused with malaprops, which are quite similar. Malaprops are words or phrases mistakenly used when another is intended. Archie Bunker from TV’s All in the Family, for instance, was a master of malaprops, unintentionally garbling the English language with classics like “Buy one of them battery operated transvestite radios.”

The term mondegreen comes from writer Sarah Wright, who misheard the last line of a stanza from a ballad called “The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray.”

[Castle Doune, where the Earl o’ Moray resided…]

The actual stanza reads:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And laid him on the green.

But Sarah heard:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

My personal favorite mondegreen emerged from a viewing of Star Wars: A New Hope with a friend. In the famous scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi senses the destruction of the planet Alderaan, he utters the words “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”

My friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ve always wanted to ask someone this. Why oysters?”

Now, both my friend and I had seen the movie countless times before. We know the original trilogy backwards and forwards. So you can understand how completely baffling I found his question.

“What did you just say?”

“Why oysters?” He paused. “Millions of oysters cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”

I figured he was pulling my leg. With dozens of viewings of the film between us, he couldn’t possibly believe Obi-Wan had been saying “oysters” for the last thirty years, right?

But apparently, he had. When I finally broke the silence by replying, “Voices. Voices, not oysters,” a look of realization washed over his face. “Oh, well that makes WAY more sense.”

And therein lies the true charm of the mondegreen: we find ourselves preferring the humor and silliness of the misheard version.

After all, you can’t simply go back to hearing “Hey, where did we go” after a friend enthusiastically belts out “HEY RODRIGO!” when Brown-Eyed Girl comes on the radio, can you?

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