Why You Keep Mishearing That Taylor Swift Lyric

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There is a line in the newest Taylor Swift single “Blank Space” that I always, always hear wrong: Where Swift sings Got a long list of ex-lovers, for some reason I mishear, All the lonely Starbucks lovers. This makes no sense, but my brain persists in the misinterpretation, and apparently I’m not the only one. Over on Lainey Gossip today, Lainey herself writes

At this point I think she should just change the name of the song to Lonely Starbucks Lovers. Yes, I can read the lyrics. But all I HEAR is “Lonely Starbucks Lovers”. And reading your emails and tweets, it seems you are the same.

There’s been a bit of research into the psychology behind misheard lyrics, including a study published back in January of this year, which argues that our expectations have such a strong influence over what we hear that they can alter our interpretations of the sounds. “When we understand what someone says, it’s always at least partly a hallucination,” University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman told PRI last week for a story on mondegreens, the term coined in a 1950s Harper’s Magazine article for misheard song lyrics. (The writer of that article heard the last line from the Scottish folk song “The Bonny Earl O’Morray” as, They have slain Earl O’Morray/and Lady Mondegreen instead of, They have slain Earl O’Morray/and laid him on the green.)

Liberman further explained to PRI, “There’s a piece of what we understand that comes from the sound that comes in our ear,” but another piece of our understanding comes from our minds — from our expectations, in other words. It’s easy to see how this explanation applies to many misheard lyrics, specifically the most-often cited one from Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze, which contains the lyrics “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”; people often mishear that line as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” It makes sense: People are more accustomed to hearing someone talking about kissing some guy, less so the entire sky. It’s less clear, however, how this could possibly apply to my — and apparently many others’ — mishearing of a Starbucks shout-out in the Swift single. My best guess is that maybe some of us are still years behind in our Swift gossip?