Soramimi: Misunderstanding song lyrics in one language for different words in a second language. The word is Japanese; the literal meaning is "empty ear."
I encountered soramimi in "Exploring Fact City," a March 29 New York Times Week in Review article about Wikipedia:
[A]t the bottom of most articles, there are the categories — impromptu neighborhoods, or perhaps civic organizations, that bind together the virtual encyclopedia. There are unsurprising ones, like “Jewish comedians,” found at the bottom of the Jerry Seinfeld article; and then there are the quirky kind, like this one I stumbled upon: “Literary devices playing with meaning.” It was in the latter category that I came upon the article “Mondegreen,” which describes the phenomenon of mishearing song lyrics, which led to “Soramimi,” a Japanese term for hearing lyrics in foreign languages as Japanese phrases, which led to the discovery that the heavy metal band Metallica has a line in “Enter Sandman” that frequently is heard by Japanese as “Let’s go to Chiyoda Life Insurance.”
Mondegreens are monolingual; soramimi are bilingual.
The Wikipedia entry on soramimi includes many examples taken from the "Soramimi Hour," a long-running feature on the Japanese TV program "Tamori Club." It also lists some non-Japanese examples, including one that miraculously did not cause an international incident:
The Palestinian patriotic song "Blādi, blādi" (بلادي بلادي "Motherland, Motherland") was intentionally "misheard" into Russian (as blyadi, blyadi = "whores, whores") and uploaded to YouTube with Russian subtitles. The resulting video became an instant hit on Russian-language websites and blogs with more than 2 million views, and a number of phrases from the Russian version (especially "No money, long bumblebee") became instant catchphrases.*
Can anyone suggest any examples of non-English song lyrics mis-heard as English?
UPDATE: Mark Liberman, of Language Log, discusses yaourter, a French verb "for the way people attempt to speak or sing in a foreign language that they don’t know very well." The literal translation of yaourter is "to yogurt." Be sure to read the comments on the post, too.
* I'm considering adopting "No money, long bumblebee" as the official catchphrase of Fritinancy.
Yes! Check out this user on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/buffalax
He has a bunch of Indian music videos (one of them is apparently Thriller), with English subtitles.
Posted by: Josh | April 27, 2009 at 12:21 PM
The old "hatt-baby" meme is a perfect example of this:
Posted by: Jenne | April 27, 2009 at 01:30 PM
The "Numa Numa" song is another classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfEE_nYehZ8
Posted by: Justin S. | April 27, 2009 at 02:22 PM
The better financial strategy is to short bumblebee.
Posted by: Lance Knobel | April 27, 2009 at 06:27 PM
The original animutation, Hyakugojyuuichi!! is a Japanese-to-English soramimi (in fact, the word appears in the wikipedia entry, which also has a link to the flash video I'm talking about):
Nice to know there's a real word for these cross-language quasi-mondegreen things.
Posted by: Kim Belcher | April 27, 2009 at 08:23 PM
The refrain of the aria 'la donna e mobile', from Verdi's Rigoletto, includes the line 'e di pensier', which is often misheard as 'elephant's ear'. You'll never hear it the same way again now, will you?
Posted by: Chris | April 28, 2009 at 12:43 AM
Thanks for all these great recommendations! There's also the Joe Cocker video with "translated" subtitles: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/04/02/joe-cocker-with-subt.html
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | April 29, 2009 at 11:40 AM
I can't take Fredo Viola's The Sad Song http://fredoviola.com/media/opus/sad_song seriously when its lyrics sound like "Body Wrap, Body Wrap..."
Posted by: Ray Girvan | July 22, 2009 at 06:37 AM