Mondegreens

Malapropism is the term used when a wrong word is spoken. You mean to say one thing, but you say something different. Archie Bunker on the 1970’s sitcom “All in the Family” was a master of malapropism. “I resemble that remark” when he meant “I resent that remark.” Or “It is a proven fact that capital punishment is a well-known detergent to crime.”

“What do I look like, an inferior decorator?” or “Present company suspected.”

Malapropism is misspeaking while Mondegreen is mishearing words.. The word “mondegreen” is generally used for misheard song lyrics, although technically it can apply to any spoken word.

So what? Why am I writing about this?

I grew up with a deaf brother. He was born with microsoma, a congenital defect that affects the development of the face, chin and ear. His malformation wasn’t as severe as some. The only visible abnormality was his one ear was tiny and not formed. But he only had 20% total hearing. Being born in the 1950’s when complex surgeries and implants were non-existent, he grew up not hearing very much around him. He did have hearing aids, but the sound was distorted and unclear. He relied on body language. He learned to speak but had the non-enunciated tone typical of some deaf people whose voices sound like a far echo instead of distinct words. He managed to excel in the public school in our small town, largely because he was an avid reader and read every book in the house. He had finished reading “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” by 4th grade, books that were required reading in my 6th grade class. He eventually went to college and became a “professional student,” with majors in history, accounting, English and political science.

Recently, my brother was a topic of conversation with a friend who has an autistic grandson. She lamented the fact that her grandson’s life is not normal. When I commented that my deaf brother didn’t have a “normal” life but that he was still a valuable person and contributed to society, she said “Being deaf is nothing like being autistic. I knew your brother and he is nothing like my grandson.” I didn’t like that she was minimizing what my brother went through. She may have known him but not during his early formative years when he was dealing with many of the same things her young grandson is now.

In his early years, many of my brother’s behaviors were similar to those seen in autism. He had to have a strict daily routine or he would become confused. If things weren’t where he expected them to be, he flew into a fit of anger, throwing himself to the ground and nearly injuring himself. He would only eat certain foods and in a certain order. I’m not sure why that was, but I think he needed an orderly life. There was a time when all he would eat was oranges and drink milk.That’s it. He was afraid of trying new things or going on different routes to school when he was young. Uneven sidewalks frightened him. Anything out of the usual made him anxious.

As he grew older, he became more secure and ventured out more. Then during his college years, he even traveled overseas to Ireland, England, and Scotland. He hiked through the countries and stayed with locals along the way. He spent 6 months in the Ukraine after the fall of the Berlin Wall. What a change from his grade school years!

I told my friend that it was a privilege having him for a brother and that her grandson’s siblings will probably be better people, having grown up with their autistic brother. I learned patience, compassion, loyalty and appreciation by having a deaf brother. He helped make me who I am today.

So, what does this have to do with Mondegreens? My brother made me laugh sometimes when he misheard something. One of my favorites was a non-politically correct mis-interpretation (so if you are sensitive in that regard, read no further…) of Bobby Vinton’s hit “Blue on Blue.” When Bobby sang, “Blue on blue, heartache on heartache,” my brother heard “Blue on blue, I am retarded.” And he would sing along at the top of his echoing voice! If we were in public and the song came on in a store, my mom would turn bright red and whisk my brother out of the store. Another “favorite” was “There’s a bathroom on the right” from Creedence lyrics “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”(I must admit that I, too, misheard “bad moon” as “bathroom.”)  Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” was “Only Baloney.”

My brother is now 61 years old and has pretty much lost all of his hearing, but he still “listens” to music (turned up really, really loud!) He can feel the vibration and beat of the songs. Doctors have said he could have reconstructive surgery and get an implant, but he has no interest in doing so. He doesn’t like some of the new hearing aids that are supposed to be better. He becomes disoriented with the new sounds and he ends up getting rid of the new aids.

My brother lives his life as he chooses and who are we to place our own perceptions and biases onto him? Do I wish he had had a better life? Of course, I do. He thinks I am silly when I say something like that because he feels he has a good life. I am placing my own biases on him. In fact, he told me once that people who pity him are actually devaluing him. So, I try to not place my own ideas of a “good life” onto him. He is content with what he does and he has friends and family who love him. He has enriched my life and the lives of countless others.

It pains me when I hear of people “getting rid” of imperfect babies or not wanting a child because of some “defect.” To me, it is tantamount to seeking the “pure race” like Hitler did. To me, even a child that is a quadriplegic and who cannot speak is of value. Every person has value in some way, if nothing else than to teach the rest of us how blessed we are and how wonderful life is.

Now, please “excuse me while I kiss the sky” or as my brother might say, ” excuse me, I’m a business guy.”

1956or1957 Cozad kids portrait

(My brothers and me.) My brother on the left was often photographed so his right ear didn’t show. As an adult, he thinks that was not a good thing to do because it was as if we had to “hide” it. He may have a point.

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