Mondegreens and the Cross-Eyed Bear

hqdefaultI have a severe hearing loss in one ear and often if someone is talking to me, but I don’t hear every word clearly, my mind will insert words or phrases that sound the most like the missing pieces, creating a new stream of thought entirely.

Apparently this is a modern phenomena called “Mondegreens,” named for the first published example of mishearing / misinterpreting a phrase due to homophony (similar sounds) in a way that gives it new meaning.

We all have been guilty of a Mondegreen at some time or another. If you ever sang “Big ‘Ol Jet Had a Light On…” by the Steve Miller Band, you probably didn’t realize he was saying “Oh, Big Ol Jet Airliner.”

Or, maybe you, like my husband Matt, used to sing, “I’m not big on sausage gravy,” while Garth Brooks was singing, “I’m not big on social graces…”

Some people sing of “Olive, the other reindeer” in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer during the Christmas season, but I can guarantee we ALL sing “Five Calling Birds,” when in fact, the original lyric was “Five Colly Birds.” That Mondegreen was so popular and held even greater context and meaning, it eventually replaced the actual lyric!

But I have one that’s a real doozy.

Years ago, before children, I worked in an office like most people. Each morning, we would meet up with various teammates to chat, catch up on cases we shared, and also to discuss the mundane things of our lives. It was our version of water–cooler talk.

One day, a teammate came to my office and sat down with his coffee and began talking about conflict at home. I was busy preparing for my day, so I wasn’t as attentive as usual, which I later regretted.

As he concluded his musings, I heard him say, “but this is the cross-eyed bear”.

Again, half deaf and only half listening, I immediately stopped when I heard this. The mental image created in my mind at such a phrase was both confusing and comical….a bear… in the woods… with his eyes…crossed.

Thoughts raced through my head as I tried to link together this image and the context of which the words were spoken.

WHY are his eyes crossed? Does that happen in animals like it does in humans?

Does it LOOK as ridiculous as it sounds?

Does the bear stand a chance in the wild with such an impairment?

He couldn’t possibly see well enough to find food, and go about his bear life, and on and on…

It did not align with anything my co-worker had even started out talking about, but things had taken an interesting turn when he threw in a visually impaired wild bear.

What I didn’t realize at the time, is that the term “cross-eyed bear” had become a popular Mondegreen from Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” and given a sexually explicit interpretation by its users. However, I didn’t know that, but it didn’t stop the inquisition and skewering that followed.

Me: “the cross-eyed bear?

Surprised and dumfounded look…Wait for it…

Co-worker: Did you just say “cross-eyed bear?”

Me: No. (Yes)

Co-worker: Yes you did! (Retreat, retreat)

Me: No, I didn’t! (My face now red and flushed.)

Co-worker: Yes, you did! (Oh, crap, he is now shouting AND laughing at me!)

Me: Okay, I did, but isn’t that what YOU said?

Co-worker: “I said, that’s the cross… I... bear!”

By this time, my best friend across the hall had joined us, interested in the humorous inquisition underway, only to publicize my embarrassment. Others joined in the jovial re-telling of Tracie hearing and thinking there was a cross-eyed bear somewhere out in the wilderness.

We all laughed and attempted to begin some actual work, meanwhile I was relieved that there wasn’t some lazy-eyed bear wandering around trying to survive in the wild!



We often hear what we want to hear.

Sometimes people are not communicating well whether it be through poor grammar, enunciation, or at a volume that is difficult for listeners. Other times, we may not be very attentive or tuned in to what some one is really saying. This sometimes results in an entirely new message, changing both the words and the original meaning.

But that is not the case with Proverbs.

There are nearly 75 verses on the topic of adultery, how it begins, who it affects, and how it destroys relationships and lives. That is a crystal clear message.

There are about 90 verses on speech and the use of our tongue (what we say and who we say it to.) Particularly apt considering the examples of Mondegreens.

And there are over 200 verses on wisdom and its benefits, the fool and the wise man, and repercussions of folly.

Clarity is not a problem in Scripture.

Maybe our problem is that we are not paying very much attention to it.

Maybe our problem is that it does not always line up with the context of today, the “world we live in,” Political Correctness, or even the examples set for us by others.

Maybe our problem is that we seek to change or alter what has actually been said to give what we think may be an even “better” message.

Maybe our problem is that we will only hear what we want to hear.

Listen, for I (Wisdom) have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare to her.

Proverbs 8:6-11


This message is clear.

Are we listening?


If you would like to receive updates from Crowning Wisdom and new posts in your inbox, please sign up here

You can also find us on FB (give us a “like” please), the Way to Wisdom Podcast, and coming soon, Instagram!


I am a writer, speaker, and lover of Truth. My husband and I have 3 awesome kids and live in the suburbs of Charlotte, NC where he pastors a church and I lead women's ministry. I am fiercely competitive, (I know, something God is still working on with me) and passionate about children and vulnerable populations. I partner with a ministry project called 'Recovering Hope' which serves victimized women and children in rural regions of Peru.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *