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Midlife mondegreen with a touch of ennui

A couple days ago I learned a new word. Mondegreen is “the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song, due to near homophony." Ever since, my brain has been sorting through its files, the worn, bent edges of index cards still organized by the Dewey Decimal System, trying to come up with the name of a performer from the 70s, someone like Jose Feliciano or Bobby Goldsboro, or maybe Freddie Prinze (the elder), whose name I always hear in the lyrics of a Go-Go’s song, or maybe it’s the Bangles. Before long I lost faith in my own memory retrieval and turned to Google to search the names of musicians I remember as being contemporaries of a similar genre (see above). When that failed to reveal the name, I turned to discographies of the two girl bands. Huh. I never knew they were singing “Our lips are sealed.” I always thought it was “Honest, I see you.”

That’s a fair to middling mondegreen, not nearly as hilarious as hearing the name of that 70s performer in the Bangles or Go Go’s song. It’s totally out of context, which is what makes it so funny, farcical as I recall, if I could only remember it.

I think this is called “midlife,” this obsessive searching through brain files and Wikipedia lists to retrieve something one so clearly remembers remembering. I was in a Walgreen’s the last time I heard the song. Not the Walgreen’s closest to my house, but the one a few miles away. It was right before some candy-related holiday (not Halloween, but Easter or Valentine’s Day) and I stood there in the aisle and that song came on and I laughed to myself and thought, “It always sounds like they’re saying so-and-so. But that makes no sense.” And also “I’m never going to remember this.” That was probably a couple years ago, right around Easter or Valentine’s Day. Or maybe it was Halloween.

Now it’s the day after Christmas and I’m thinking about it again. I spent a couple hours editing a book on peace, which is very inspiring. I’m hoping it will make me a better person, less judgmental and also not so easily distracted by misplaced mondegreens. But it’s such a beautiful word, mondegreen, and so new I had to add it to my spell-check dictionary. I like it almost as much as I like the word ennui, which I thought of upon returning from a walk around the neighborhood. “There’s nothing like a winter walk to shake off the post-Christmas ennui,” I said to myself. But as soon as I’d said it, even in my head, I felt better for it. I like to pronounce ennui with a beyond-banal French accent. Takes the sting out of any residual listlessness, makes world-weariness seem laughable. That’s part of the beauty of ennui, at least for me; saying it dispels it. Let’s say it together now: on we.
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