Archive for the ‘Mishearings’ Category

In brief: phonological words

November 19, 2015

Heard — or, rather, misheard —  in a tv commercial for Oral-B electric toothbrushes (which can be viewed here):

(1) I’m never going back to Emanuel Brush.

when what the actor was saying was:

(2) I’m never going back to a manual brush.

Now, since I have [ǝ] (rather than [ɪ]) in the first syllable of the name Emanuel and the indefinite article a [ǝ] usually forms a phonological word with the word that follows it, (1) and (2) are in fact normally homophonous for me.

Yes, I don’t know anyone named Emanuel Brush, so I don’t know how the name came to me, in a toothbrush ad, no less.

peanut(s), penis, and Cracker Jack

October 30, 2015

In a posting three days ago on matters having to do with a Pop-Tart commercial on tv, I reported that at first I heard the peanut in peanut butter as penis. Now a Facebook poster adds his own experience, which had to do with the Cracker Jack slogan (for many years), “Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize”, which as a kid he heard as hawking “penis and a prize”; he took that as an early indicator that he was gay. And now I discover that there’s a rich vein of joking (much of it sophomoric) exploiting the phonetic similarity of peanuts and penis (penis brittle and, yes, penis butter), plus considerable anxiety over the word peanuts from speakers of languages that disfavor consonant clusters (like /ts/).

Two topics here: the phonetic similarity of peanut(s) and penis; and some reflections on Cracker Jack, both the snack and its name.


Pop-Tart blasphemy

October 27, 2015

This Pop-Tart commercial for their new Peanut Butter & Jelly line went past me this morning:

Well, I heard the peanut of peanut butter as penis, but that’s no surprise for someone of my inclinations. I noted it, to add to my file of mishearings, but decided not to post about it; I don’t post about each instance separately. But then along came the One Million Moms and their campaign to try to force Kellogg’s to withdraw the ad, or at least edit one line they found offensive because of its “foul language”. From their 10/15 posting, “Contact Kellogg’s Concerning ‘Jam It’ Ad”:

“No! Ah, Jam It!” The advertisement could have ended with “No!” but Kellogg’s chose to include a phrase that sounded just like a curse word.

It took me a while to see that they were talking about the blasphemous profanity Damn it! / Dammit!, which for me is the mildest sort of strong language. But they’re really serious Christians, who feel that children need protection from blasphemy, or allusions to blasphemy, in the media (in expressions with words like Christ, God, damn, and hell in them — OMG!).



June 8, 2015

In my “Mishearings” posting yesteday, I quoted Oliver Sacks:

I carefully record these in a little red notebook labeled “PARACUSES” — aberrations in hearing, especially mishearings.

Readers on Facebook were unable to find a reference on the term paracuses and entertained the possibility that Sacks had just made it up. As it turns out, no, or at least not entirely. The beginning of understanding is that the term is plural; it’s Sacks’s learnèd plural of the Greek-derived technical term paracusis. And that we can find in dictionaries.



June 7, 2015

Oliver Sacks, in an opinion column “Mishearings” in today’s NYT:

A few weeks ago, when I heard my assistant Kate say to me, “I am going to choir practice,” I was surprised. I have never, in the 30 years we have worked together, heard her express the slightest interest in singing. But I thought, who knows? Perhaps this is a part of herself she has kept quiet about; perhaps it is a new interest; perhaps her son is in a choir; perhaps .…

I was fertile with hypotheses, but I did not consider for a moment that I had misheard her. It was only on her return that I found she had been to the chiropractor.

… As my deafness increases, I am more and more prone to mishearing what people say, though this is quite unpredictable; it may happen 20 times, or not at all, in the course of a day.

(a familiar topic on this blog, though usually without the involvement of deafness).


Odds and ends 5/26/15

May 26, 2015


“The most famous beaver of the 17th century”

May 7, 2015

That’s what I thought I heard from the WQXR announcer last night. But then she went on to tell us about Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Sonata VII in G for violin, which made a lot more sense than a 17th-century beaver.

Biber with a /b/, beaver with a /v/: acoustically very close.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern (12 August 1644 (baptised) – 3 May 1704) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and violinist. (Wikipedia link)

Journalists and their names

February 11, 2015

Late last week, the Stanford Linguistic Department’s assistant e-mailed me about a phone call (for me) that had come into the department: a Mr. Ethics, representing a magazine, wanted to talk to me about a story he was working on, and left a New York City phone number.

I tried to check on this fellow Ethics, to no avail, until I realized that the assistant (who is very good at her job, but is not a native speaker of English) had almost surely gotten the name wrong. Eventually I figured out that the man’s name was Essex, not the unlikely Ethics. By then the day was over in New York City; in any case, I thought the phone call to my department was an ominous sign.


Ask AMZ: two queries

November 27, 2014

… from Karen Schaffer: on trickle treat, and on gangbang and gangbanger.


Musical mishearing

November 22, 2014

(briefly noted)

On the fairy tale beat. Heard on WQXR last night, Humperdinck’s Sleeping Beauty Suite (Dornröschen, 1902). Except that what I heard as the title was Sweeping Beauty Suite — suitable for Cinderella (Aschenputtel) but not Sleeping Beauty.



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