Reciting formulas

The 3/13 One Big Happy, recently in my cartoon feed:

Ruthie and Joe are both mishearing parts of the Lord’s Prayer (in one of its many variants). Ruthie, line 1: “Our Father, who art in heaven”. Joe, line 2: “Hallowed be His name”.  This is a highly formulaic text, in a strange variety of English, most often heard recited by groups of people mumbling out of synch with one other. The text is odd, and hard to make out: a perfect breeding place for mishearings.

About as good as texts sung to music. Songs often have remarkable words — poetic, allusive, dialectal, archaic, idiosyncratic, whatever — and singing itself and musical accompaniment deform and conceal wording. Hence classic mondegreens. Rote recitation of texts nurtures something very similar to mondegreens (often classed with them).

2 Responses to “Reciting formulas”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I had absolutely no early religious upbringing. I found myself at the age of 6 (in 1946) in this little private school in Boston taught by pious old Irish ladies. First thing in the morning we recited this strange text that began “Our father who aren’t in heaven, hell would be thy name”. My first introduction to hieratic language.

    The next year we moved to Atlanta, and I was surprised to learn that the pious old Baptist ladies began the day with exactly the same text, only it had an additional line at the end, beginning “for thine is the kingdom”. And that was my first introduction to textual criticism.

  2. Joseph F Foster Says:

    And lead us not into Penn Station.

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