If you haven’t already heard of this phenomenon you have probably still come across it. The scenario is that you happen to listen to a foreign song, not paying much attention, and you suddenly hear something ridiculous in your own language! You are suffering from the Mama Appelsap syndrome.
The generic expression is ‘Misheard Lyrics’, in the Netherlands the phenomenon is known as ‘Mama Appelsap’. It translates as ‘Mother Apple Juice’, a mishearing of Michael Jackson’s ‘Wanna be startin’ something’. Two very obvious ones from the video are ‘Waar is toch dat zebrahondje voor’ (‘What is the purpose of the little zebradog’) and ‘Ik zat alleen in een vuile kameel’ (‘I was merely sitting in a dirty camel’). For English speakers, Misheard Lyrics are synonymous with ‘Buffalax’, which includes the hilarious Benny Lava. German speakers will probably enjoy the illustrated interpretation of Ai Se Eu Te Pego, below.
But how do those misunderstandings all come about? In a normal situation abroad you probably don’t hear such funny things all the time. Part of the explanation is that when you hear a foreign speech string, you automatically cut it up according to the rules of your own linguistic system. Unless, of course, you’re already quite fluent. It’s interesting then that misheard lyrics also occur in your own language. It seems that there is also some element of attention involved, attention which lacks a bit when you focus on the tune rather than the lyrics.
The Mama Appelsap experience may typically be enhanced by having zero understanding of the language a song is sung in. But who says you should try to understand the actual lyrics? Your native vocabulary just got enriched with loony buns and zebrahondjes…
Do you reckon some languages are more prone to misheard lyrics? Do you have examples from your own language? And what is it called? Share them with us if you like!