It's hardly news to personal computer users that the Internet is the greatest reference tool ever built. A connection to the Net gives you a connection to the world's largest library, with ready access to information, be it animal, vegetable, mineral, historical, categorical, mathematical, or quadratical.
But even though we recognize the vastness of this resource, we are continually surprised by the range of reference data the Net provides. In fact, we discovered just the other day that the Internet holds the answer to one of the lingering mysteries of our youth.
We came upon a wonderful Web site called "The International Lyrics Server" (www.lyrics.ch). This nicely designed spot makes it easy to track down the words to 75,000 songs. The selections range from ancient including traditional ballads and carols to up-to-the-minute, including the complete lyrics of the world's greatest ska band, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Readers of a certain age will be intrigued to know that the treasures on this site include the lyrics of a great rock 'n' roll goldie oldie, "Louie Louie." Eons ago, when we were young, everybody knew this song. But nobody could ever understand the words. There were all sorts of rumors about what the lyrics said, but nobody knew for sure.
We can now report that the words to "Louie Louie" are available on Lyrics Server. They are not nearly as exotic, or as filthy, as we used to imagine. In fact, they're downright stupid. Sometimes, it's probably better to leave youthful mysteries unsolved.
The lyrics Web site is a fun place to browse around, but it can also have practical uses. It includes highly quotable lyrics from the works of Cole Porter, Gilbert and Sullivan, etc., which will light up any piece of writing. Some readers have probably recognized already that the first paragraph of this column borrows from the famous Gilbert and Sullivan song "A Modern Major General."
While Lyrics Server provides the exact words of songs, there are some places on the Web that catalogue incorrect lyrics. On purpose.
As our experience with "Louie Louie" demonstrates, it's often hard to understand the actual words a singer is intoning. The problem spans the range of musical categories, from opera to rock and rap. And listeners, struggling to understand, frequently hear something that is not actually sung.
This kind of error is known as a "Mondegreen." The term was coined by the writer Sylvia Wright, who heard a folk singer intone the line "They had slain the Earl of Moray and laid him on the green" and thought she heard "... and Lady Mondegreen." Everybody has a few Mondegreens of his own. And now people are listing their favorites on the Web.
We can't find any practical application for the information (if you can call it that) on the Mondegreen Web sites. But they have a strange attraction.
It's kind of fun to know that somebody listening to the tender German Christmas carol "Oh Tanenbaum" thought the choir was singing "Oh atom bomb, oh atom bomb." Or that somebody heard Bob Dylan sing "The ants are my friends and blowin' in the wind."
You can easily understand how somebody thought Irving Berlin had written " ... stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light from a bulb." And it's perfectly natural that a listener thought she heard "He's got the whole world in his pants." It's a little more difficult, though, to fathom how anybody listening to The Beatles sing "Lady Madonna" could have decided the song actually began "Leave me some doughnuts."
We're not going to give the addresses for any of these Mondegreen sites, because you'll probably waste a few precious hours of your life on them and then blame us. But typing the word "Mondegreen" into a search engine will get you started.
T.R. Reid is Rocky Mountain bureau chief of the Washington Post. Brit Hume is managing editor of Fox News in Washington. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at email@example.com, or Brit Hume at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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