When someone says a word that is superficially similar to, but means something different from, what they really mean, we call it a malapropism. I'm looking for the counterpart to this—a word for the act of wrongly interpreting a correctly spoken or written word.

When the problem is purely acoustic, as in this example:

OLD GEEZER #1: It's windy today!

OLD GEEZER #2: No, it's Thursday.

OLD GEEZER #3: Me too! Let's get a drink.

then we call it a Mondegreen (thank you KJO for the term) but I'm looking for a word that covers failures of the hearer's vocabulary (just as a malapropism is a failure of the speaker's vocabulary).

One example might be from Stanley Holloway's 1931 monologue "The Recumbent Posture" in which the instructions on Albert's bottle of medicine dictate that it is to be taken "in a recumbent posture" leading his parents to scour the town in search of such an object.

Of course, sometimes it can be done deliberately:

MRS FUSSEY: Joan may think you're a gentleman but personally I've got sore misgivings.

SID BOGGLE: You ought to put some talcum powder on them.

(Carry on Camping, 1969)

  • 1
    Mrs. Piggle Wiggle called it "Thought-You-Saiditis" or "Thought-You-Saiding". The cure is magic hearing powder, sprinkled in the ears.
    – 1006a
    Dec 20, 2018 at 16:08
  • 1
    Or thoughtisaurus puddy-tat?
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 20, 2018 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


It could be classified as

A mondegreen /ˈmɒndɪɡriːn/ is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning


related to the second example is a Syntactic ambiguity, also called amphiboly or amphibology so one could call it a "jocular amphiboly" such as

"The peasants are revolting"
"They are aren't they"

which is also related to an Egg corn and Mumpsimus



Meaning as a verb (misconstrue)

Interpret (a person's words or actions) wrongly.

Definitions from Oxford Dictionaries

Did I misconstrue your thoughts when you looked at me in the Queen's boudoir?

From Cinq Mars, Complete

Alfred de Vigny



Definitions from Oxford Dictionaries

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.