A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about certain words or phrases that I had got wrong in childhood. I mentioned that in church, I used to say ‘Thanks Peter God’ rather than ‘Thanks be to God’.
I have spent my life since then assuming I was the only person who ever thought that, but it turns out not to be the case. I was contacted by reader Graham Hunt whose son used to visit St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, near Kirkbymoorside, because his grandfather was the organist and choirmaster there. After one such visit, he returned home to ask his parents “Who is Peter God?”, and the family regularly wheel out the story to this day. He also admits that, similar to my childhood pronunciation of ‘W.H.Smith’ as ‘WuhSmith’, he also used to call a well known brand of ink, ‘Step Hens ink’, until he learned it was actually ‘Stephen’s’.
Since I wrote that column, another couple of corkers came to mind. When I was 18 I took a gap year in Athens, Greece, where I looked after a four-year-old boy named Marios while his parents were at work. After a few weeks, his mum took me aside and said, “I think you have been teaching my son a new word.”
She looked quite cross, and I wondered what word she meant.
“S***t!” she said.
I was shocked, and began to protest my innocence, until she began to giggle, before explaining that Marios had been repeating the word ‘s***t’ to her over and over again, and she was about to seek me out to give me a stern talking to. But then she saw him motion with his hands and say ‘open’. He followed that by clasping his hands together again and saying what she now knew to be ‘shut’!
On the ‘potty mouth’ theme, a friend told me the story of their own memorable occasion which has passed down into family legend. She is from a large Irish family, and they all gathered for a special meal, a first for her new boyfriend. Their formidable grandmother, who originated from County Cork and possessed a very strong accent, was in attendance. The boyfriend was rather taken aback when she aggressively demanded of him, “Pass me the f*****g knife.” He fearfully scrabbled for a knife to give to her, but couldn’t understand why she gave him a look. “And the f**k! There, right there by you!” she said impatiently.
It was only with intervention from his girlfriend that he realised that what granny was actually asking was for him to pass her a fork and knife.
One particular avenue of incomprehension that I bet you will have travelled down is undecipherable pop lyrics. We have all at some point merrily sung along with words that we think are right, only to discover years down the line that we’ve been wrong. I can’t be the only one who would sing ‘Sue Lawley’ over and over again to ‘So lonely’ by The Police. Or how about ‘Poppadom Preach’ to Madonna’s ‘Papa Don’t Preach’? And isn’t it true that if we enjoy a song, but don’t really know what the words are, we simply invent noises that vaguely sound like the words, none of which you will ever find in an English language dictionary.
If you like this sort of thing, then I would highly recommend searching online for Peter Kay’s ‘Misheard Song Lyrics’. He recalls taking part in karaoke where they play the backing track, while the words to the song flash up on a screen as you join in. It’s only then that you realise the words you have been singing for the past 15 years have been nothing like the intended lyrics.
It had me in absolute stitches, and once you see him mouth his invented version to the actual song, you will never sing it the right way again. The one that had me laughing loudest was when he lip-synced along to ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge. ‘Just let me staple the vicar’ he sang whereas the real line is ‘Just let me say for the record’.
Now, every time I hear that song, I have images of vicars being stapled by the cassock to the nearest object. I wonder what song lyrics you have unwittingly invented only to discover you were wrong all the time?
Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 24th and the Gazette & Herald on 22nd September 2021