Let us paint you a picture: you’re in the prime of adolescence. You hear a new song on the radio and you feel like the artist is speaking directly to you. You get into the groove. It becomes your new favorite song. Then you go to a party and your new jam starts booming out of the sound system. You can’t help yourself. You are in your element. You start singing along when suddenly – record scratch – everyone is staring at you. “Dude, did you just sing ‘don’t go Jason waterfalls?'” You run from the party and begin a new life in another town, where nobody knows you, and where news of your ignorance of TLC lyrics does not travel.

This tragic true story was preventable. Before poor Jason snuck out of town and changed his name to something that bore no similarity to a popular song verse, somebody should have told him that this incident wasn’t his fault. Misheard song lyrics have quite a bit to do with intelligibility, so his assumption that T-Boz, Left-Eye, and Chilli were singing directly to him was probably due to the circumstances under which he first heard “Waterfalls,” and not due to any personal failure.

We discussed intelligibility as it relates to emergency communications in a previous post, but it’s just as relevant in this context. Was Jason listening to the weekly top-40 countdown in an enclosed space with acoustic treatments and no reflective surfaces? Probably not. We suspect he first heard “Waterfalls” while doing homework in his bedroom, with its walls covered in posters and his sister practicing her clarinet in the next room; or, perhaps, he was driving down the highway trying desperately to drown out the road noise with his car’s factory stereo system. In either case, the circumstances weren’t ideal for understanding those brilliant lyrics clearly and concisely. Now if only we could get in a time machine and go back to that party in 1995 to explain this phenomenon to Jason’s friends. Sorry, Jason. We’ll get right on that time travel thing as soon as we get our DeLorean out of the shop.

What are your favorite misheard song lyrics? Comment below and let us know!

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