Chapter

Getting It Wrong

I know I’m not the only one who has trouble with song lyrics from time to time. I was a grown adult before realizing that the line in “Jingle Bells” was not “In a one-horse soap and sleigh.” I always thought that, in addition to being something you cleaned with, soap was also used to describe some sort of horse harness. Only later did I understand that the line was actually “In a one-horse open sleigh,” which made infinitely more sense.

One of my favorite examples of this is a Cheech and Chong movie in which Cheech sings, “I’m a one-eyed snake,” while covering up one eye with his hand. Of course, the correct lyrics were “Tell me what’d I say.”

I know for a fact that lots of people have no clue what Steve Miller meant with the “p” word in the song “The Joker”: “’Cause I speak of the pompatus of love.” What the heck is that?

Or Manfred Mann’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Blinded by the Light,” in which he very distinctly says, “Wrapped up like a douche.” Though he claims the lyrics he sung are actually “Revved up like a deuce.” I think both possibilities are equally stupid.

When I was around ten, I failed to appreciate the distinction between “gentiles” (non-Jewish people) and “genitals” (you know… pee pee). This led to some awkward moments in church on Sunday when the preacher would say, “And they went forth to smite the gentiles,” and I would burst out in hysterics, much to my mother’s chagrin. Though I wasn’t sure what “smite” meant, I thought I knew all about “gentiles.” But I’m not the only one who gets such things wrong.

I turned to the trusty Internet and learned there are lots of other example of confused song lyrics. Evidently some folks think Jimi Hendrix sang, “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy!” in “Purple Haze” rather than “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky!”

In Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69,” instead of “I got my first real six-string,” some folks hear, “I got my first real sex dream.” Or how about “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles, in which “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes” is heard as “The girl with colitis goes by.” Yuckkk!

But somehow the mistaken lyrics “Like a virgin, touched for the thirty-first time” in Madonna’s song “Like a Virgin” seem more fitting for her than the real ones: “Like a virgin, touched for the very first time.”

But such confusion is not limited to song lyrics. My business partner, Ernest, and I were having a meeting one afternoon with a customer and, at his suggestion, had adjourned for an after-meeting cocktail. The customer began railing about problems in the Middle East. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

“We have to be careful dealing with those people. Why they engage in self-flatuation!” As he said the last word, he motioned as if he was striking himself, which made it clear he meant self-flagellation— beating themselves, not farting on themselves. Ernest and I were afraid to look at each other for fear we wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face.

There’s so much in life that’s confusing. But I’m glad it’s not just me.

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