Our fondness for dogs has resulted in many shelves of toy stores being filled with plush dogs, plastic dogs, mechanical dogs and electronically controlled dogs that bark, sing or flash lights. One of the latest entries is a soft puppy, manufactured by a company called "Leapfrog" in China, and sold in Britain under the brand name of "My Pal Scout."

Image from LeapFrog Inc
Source: Image from LeapFrog Inc

     Scout is a rather clever product designed to help children recognize and enjoy sounds and music. Pressing one of his paws turns his collar light on and starts him singing one of a number of songs. There is also a way to program the child's name into the toy so that some of the songs will use it as part of the lyrics. So far so good-until we get to one problematical song...

     This 20 second long song is supposed to have lyrics that include the line "If you're happy and you know it bark with me." The problem is that some parents claim that the word "bark" is really the F word, so the line comes out "If you're happy and you know it f##k with me" which is not exactly appropriate for children. For this reason they have complained to the manufacturer and the media.

     Psychologists should immediately be concerned that this problem could well be a situation involving misperception, which often happens when we are listening to music or spoken text, rather than reading a print form of it. Sylvia Wright labelled these common occurrences "mondegreens" because of the way that she usually misinterpreted the final line of the first stanza from the 17th-century ballad The Bonnie Earl O' Murray. She remembered it as

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

     The actual fourth line is "And laid him on the green".

     My own personal favourite mondegreen comes from the 23rd psalm where I consistently heard "Surely good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life" instead of the actual biblical text which was "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."

     Mondegreens are often the result as we try to interpret song lyrics. For a long time, whenever I heard the Bee Gees song Stayin' Alive, I heard one lyric as "It's alright. It's okay. You make love the other way," when in reality the words were "It's alright. It's okay. You may look the other way."

     Several mondegreens produced by my children still make me chuckle decades later. For instance my daughter wandered around the house singing "This is the dawning of the Age of Asparagus, age of Asparagus" while the real lyric came from the Fifth Dimension's recording of Aquarius, and should have been "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Age of Aquarius."

     I also remember my son singing along with Bob Dylan's recording Blowin' in the Wind

"The ants are my friends,
They're blowin' in the wind
The ants are a-blowin' in the wind."

When it should have been

"The answer, my friend,
Is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

So let us assume that the interpretation of the lyrics that cuddly toy puppy Scout is singing is a mondegreen rather than an insidious plot to bring sex and rude language into the lives of toddlers. Then the question is "whose mondegreen?" It could be referred back to the Chinese manufacturer of the toy, who might lack linguistic sophistication and might mishear the crude F word as the innocuous doggy word "bark." It could also be also be the minds of hyper-vigilant parents, who, in a bout of defensiveness for their children, are finding sexuality and perversion in innocent children's songs.

Perhaps you can decide by listening for yourself  http://vimeo.com/8784328

             Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome

     Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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