EDITING 101: 62 – Using the Wrong Song Lyrics…

Using the Wrong Song Lyrics

If you’re going to go against standard editorial advice (given in Editing 101 post #8) and use song lyrics in your book, for heaven’s sake, be sure you have the CORRECT lyrics!

Well, duh, Editor Lady. That’s what all those Internet lyric sites are for, silly.

Umm, no.

Do not trust lyric sites on the Internet to have the true, accurate lyrics. Most of them are not any more accurate than the mondegreen you may have heard.

What the heck is that??

A mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase—as a result of near-homophony (go back and visit post 16 for an explanation of homophones)—in a way that gives it a new meaning. What you heard may not be correct.

An example would be a line in ZZ Top’s song, “Sharp-Dressed Man,” which apparently some people have heard as “Everybody’s crazy ’bout a shot glass man.” It’s supposed to be “Everybody’s crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.”

And in Roberta Flack’s classic “Killing Me Softly,” the line, “strumming my pain with his fingers,” has been misheard as “stuffing my face with his fingers!” Yikes!

Then there’s my favorite. These are the words I’ve heard since I was a child, and even though I now know they aren’t correct, it’s what my brain fills in when I hear the chorus of “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” (several people sang it, but here’s the link to Dan Seals’ version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxdsk-cFX-k):

I’m not talkin’ ’bout the linen

And I don’t wanna change your life.

But a warm wind’s blowin’ the stars around

And I’d really love to see you tonight.”

Sounds fine, right? Well, except for maybe the “linen” part, which I have to admit I never understood. Why in the world was he singing about the sheets? He wasn’t! However, I’m not the only one who heard those words. Here’s a link to an Internet lyrics site—Remember? The ones I warned you about?—who heard the same thing and now tells people those are the “correct” words. Only they’re not the correct words to the chorus. It’s really supposed to be:

I’m not talkin’ ’bout movin’ in

And I don’t wanna change your life.

But a warm wind’s blowin’; the stars are out

And I’d really love to see you tonight.”

Check them out HERE

Do you have any favorite misheard lyrics?

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!

Next week we’ll discuss ‘Are you overwhelming your social media followers?’


To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE


This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.




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50 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 62 – Using the Wrong Song Lyrics…

  1. For myself, I think a better lesson is to never use any song lyrics written after 1919 (I believe it is) in a book, unless you have written permission from the proper people. Writers have been sued for doing this illegally. It’s actually considered plagiarism and can cost you a lot of money. I’ve read there are lawyers out there who actively search for these uses, too.

    Now I’m not an expert, but I did some extensive research on the issue because I specifically wanted to use a funny scene in my first book involving a very conservative character caught playing air guitar and singing “Money For Nothing.” After the horror stories I discovered, involving shockingly large dollar amounts, I reconsidered.

    Using song titles is legal. Using lyrics, misheard or not, isn’t. So if you choose to do so, just know the risk you are taking.

    But misheard lyrics are hilarious, and some of these are really great.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I agree! That’s why the intro paragraph says, “If you’re going to go against standard editorial advice (given in Editing 101 post #8) and use song lyrics in your book, for heaven’s sake, be sure you have the CORRECT lyrics!” 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      • I know. I read that, too, but I also hope most writers understand it’s more than just going against an editor’s advice. It’s actually doing something illegal that can cost them a lot of money. That’s why I mentioned being aware of the actual risk involved. One interesting thing I learned is that you can “refer” to a line of lyrics, but you can’t quote it exactly, without risking a lawsuit. In other words, you can’t say “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” But you can say something like “If you are dreaming of white Christmases, whether they are anything like the ones you used to know or not . . . ” It’s all quite a tangle of limitations. I’ve referred to a lyric or two in my last book, in a roundabout way, and I used titles, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. With my luck, I’d be sued right off the bat.

        Liked by 1 person


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