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May I have a word: Wrong phrases that sound totally right

Something misheard, something gained: Readers offer up their favorite examples of erroneous expressions.

Last time, I invited you to share a favorite eggcorn or mondegreen, eggcorns being misheard words and phrases and mondegreens being the same thing in song lyrics. The responses I received had me chortling all week, and I wish I had space to include more of them.

Maia Farish, of White Plains, N.Y., wrote: “A friend from many years ago said ‘take it for granite’ instead of ‘take it for granted.’ I love it because it actually makes sense. Granite is pretty solid stuff.” Eriko Antos, of Newmarket, N.H., sent me that one too and also “I knew from the gecko.”


Keith Backman, of Bedford, shared a memory: “When I was a young child and my siblings and I became rambunctious, my father would thunder, ‘Cease and desist!’ Great mirth ensued when I tried to imitate him by shouting at a bothersome brother, ‘Cease to exist!’”

Avrum Mayman wrote: “I was in Las Vegas for CES [an annual consumer electronics trade show], and we were having a meeting when I heard the presenter say, ‘I know we all have a lot to do, but make sure you see the nudist plays.’

“Well, what happens in Vegas . . . Oh, you mean check out the new displays? Imagine my disappointment.”

Mary Schaefer, of Natick, wrote: “When I came home from kindergarten, I proudly recited the Pledge of Allegiance to my parents ending with ‘with liberty and just a squirrel.’”

A number of readers’ eggcorns came from religious language — unsurprisingly, I suppose, since such texts tend to be different from everyday speech and so may be hard to parse.

Janet W. Jones, of Vineyard Haven, reported: “My daughter, at a very early age, loudly asked me in church why we had to ask God to ‘forgive us our trash baskets.’ At least she was paying attention to what was said, even if she misunderstood” the word trespasses.


Joan Quigley, of Stoneham, and Jeannette Doyle, of Mashpee, both informed me that in his childhood, author Malachi McCourt recited the line “blessed art thou amongst women” in the Hail Mary as “blessed art thou, a monk swimming.”

Wiseacres have even had their way with this well-known line from the Old Testament’s Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Ethan Bolker, of Newton Highlands, told me: “For years, I’ve chuckled over ‘Surely good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life.’”

And on to mondegreens, from song lyrics.

Some mondegreens popped up in traditional patriotic songs. Barbara Fournier, of Milton, recounted: “My son came home from kindergarten saying he learned a great new song about some really cool astronauts. He then sang, ‘O beautiful, four spaceship guys.’”

And Linda Atkinson shared an exquisitely anticlimactic one from “God Bless America”: “Stand beside her and guide her / Through the night with the light from a bulb.”

Mark G. Wagner had a youthful experience with a rock ’n’ roll mondegreen and a story to tell about it. He wrote: “In the 1970s, my father and mother took all eight of their young children across country in a Ford station wagon with a pop-up camper. At the time, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’ was a hit. With the 10 of us, needless to say, we were in almost constant need of a bathroom. Instead of ‘There’s a bad moon on the rise,’ we sang, ‘There’s a bathroom on the right.’”


No fewer than 17 other readers sent me that mondegreen too. Apparently, even early on, this mishearing was so common that the band’s lead singer, John Fogerty, got in on the joke in live shows, gesturing toward the nearest bathroom or singing the wrong lyrics on purpose.

Nina Trowbridge, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, also had a story to tell: “My older sister, who took me to my first concert — James Taylor at the Civic Center in Portland, Maine — thought the line in the chorus of his iconic song ‘Sweet Baby James’ was ‘Beet greens and blues are the colors I choose.’

“We belted this out while playing the record over and over at home in Brookline, Mass. It made perfect sense to us at the time. We now blame our mother for this, who tried to share with us her love of beet greens, among other unusual vegetables, when we were children.

“Later on, while living in San Francisco, I happened to hear on the radio that James Taylor was playing at a nearby outdoor venue one night. Feeling homesick for New England, I jumped in my car, drove out to the venue, and bought an extra ticket from someone standing in the security line.

“After the last solo encore, during a brief moment of silence, I yelled out ‘Sweet Baby James!’ He must have heard, because he motioned ‘One more’ to someone offstage and then played ‘Sweet Baby James’ on his acoustic guitar, sitting alone on the stage. I’ll never forget those lovely words and music through the clear California night: ‘Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose / Won’t you let me go down in my dreams?’”


Nina, I’m bestowing bragging rights on you this time, not because I thought your entry decisively thumped everyone else’s but because I loved the story that came with it. Well done!

This time, I challenge you to come up with a word that I myself have long wished English had: If someone tells a friend that they were in a car accident and their car was totaled but they walked away without a scratch, the reply they’re likely to get is “You’re so lucky!” But that’s hardly good luck — it’s seriously bad luck that could have been worse.

Can you give me a word that would be more accurate than lucky in a context like that? Send it to me at Barbara.Wallraff@globe.com by noon on Friday, Sept. 2, and kindly include where you live. Responses may be edited.