Word of the day – yaourter

The word yaourter (to yoghurt) is a French word for the way people attempt to speak or sing in a foreign language that they don’t know very well. Often they mishear and misinterpret the word or lyrics and substitute them with familiar words. For example the Queen song “I want to break free” becomes “I want a steak frites”. The lyrics of songs in your native language are often misheard as well.

It’s not just the French who yoghurt though – the line “sonnez les matines” from “Frere Jacques” becomes “sunny semolina” or something simliar in the mouths of English children. I think I sang it as “sloppy semonlina”. Another word for this phenomenon is ‘slips of the ear’.

Source: BBC News

Do you have any examples of yoghurting / slips of the ear / misheard lyrics?

This entry was posted in English, French, Language.

23 Responses to Word of the day – yaourter

  1. TJ says:

    Oh! Always have that!

    Try to listen to “Preab San Ól” (Luke Kelly & Ciarán Bourke version), and see if you can follow the lyrics with what you hear… it sounds irrelevant.

  2. Hillel Gershuni says:

    In Hebrew It’s called “לאבטח” (le’avteakh – to watermelon), for someone miheard the song “אהבתיה” (ahavtiha – I loved her) as “אבטיח” (avatiakh – a watermelom). It goes well with the rest of the sentence, that can be linked to the feeling when you now know you were wrong; the song continues: “אני יודע זאת פתאום” (now I know that).

    There’s a website that dedicated for that, that was once a big hit: http://www.avatiach.com/

  3. stormboy says:

    Also known as ‘mondegreens’ – see Language Log and Wikipedia:

  4. stormboy says:

    Apologies – it’s actually ‘soramimi’, according to this Wikipedia entry:

    Apparently ‘mondegreen’ applies to the monolingual context – soramimi is used across languages.

  5. Adam says:

    In the Welsh anthem many people go

    Ein gwrol rhyfelwyr instead of Ei gwrol rhyfelwyr

    and Where’s teg for Chwarae teg which means fairplay in Welsh.

  6. Dirk Bakker says:

    Another term for misheard phrases (a.o. in lyrics) is ‘Mondegreen’, derived from the poem line ‘and laid him on the green’ misheard as ‘and Lady Mondegreen’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondegreen.

    A whole section of the website of the Dutch magazine Onze Taal (‘Our Language’) is dedicated to Mondegreens (in Dutch, though): http://www.onzetaal.nl/ot/mondegreens/index.php.

    Often, it is children who come up with the most beautiful examples, due to their unfamiliarity with archaic words that often occur in e.g. Christmas or other religious songs. One of my favourites is the Christmas song line ‘Midden in de winternacht / ging de hemel open’ (‘in the middle of the winter night / the heavens opened up’), misheard as ‘…ging de Hema open‘ (‘…Hema opened up’). ‘Hema’ is the name of a well-known department store chain in Holland.

    It is also fun to note that, once you have grown up with the misheard version of a text, the correct version will always somehow sound ‘wrong’ to you.

  7. Tazgo says:

    My father, when singing the Irish national anthem, would replace the last line, “Seo libh canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann”, with “Shoving Connie around the green”…

  8. J says:

    There’s always the popular “One ton of mayo” instead of “Guantanamera.”

  9. michael farris says:

    Isn’t the classic “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy” (kiss the sky)

    One a former acquaintance misheard was Oliva Newton John singing:
    “Please, Mr, Please, don’t take me at 17” instead of “don’t play 3-17”

  10. Daniel says:

    The Hebrew example by Hillel is a Mondegreen, but an example of a popular “yaourt” (Soramimi) is דורי מת (dori met, “Dori died”), which is a play on Ameno by Era:

  11. Ann says:

    My son is a good one for coming up with unique lyrics –

    Knock on Wood – “The whale on me is frightening” for “The way you love me is frightening”

    Evil Woman – “Hiii-i-po Worrrm” for “Eeee-ee-vil Woman”…don’t know how he got that one, but if you listen to it, it does kind of sound like it.

  12. Petréa Mitchell says:

    The only term I’m familiar with is “mondegreen” (not necessarily capitalized).

    This post made me think of this bit from Dave Barry, when he’d asked readers to write in and vote on the worst song of all time:

    “Sometimes the voters were so angry that they weren’t even sure of the name of the song they hated. There were votes against ‘These Boots Are Made for Stomping’; the Beach Boys’ classic ‘Carolina Girls’; ‘I’m Nothing But a Hound Dog’; and ‘Ain’t No Woman Like the One-Eyed Gott’. A lot of people voted for ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, offering a variety of interpretatations of the chorus, including: ‘Weem-o-wep’, ‘Wee-ma-wack’, ‘Weena-wack’, ‘A-ween-a-wap’, and ‘Wingle whip’.”

    (from “The Worst Songs Ever Recorded”, collected in Dave Barry is Not Making This Up)

  13. Ivan says:

    Russians have been known to mishear The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” as “Кинь бабе лом” (“Throw the old woman a log”) and “If you don’t eat your meat” from the end of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” as “Бабушка, не беги” (“Grandma, don’t run”). Apparently Russians’ perception turns naturally toward old women…

  14. Faldone says:

    Or hearing “Don’t play 3-17” for “Don’t play B-17

  15. Alexey says:


    The first example of yours was an intentional “phonetic” translation, as far as I can understand, for “баба” means not only an old woman, but, as in this case, rather, a “chick”, akin to German “Weib”.
    The whole expression is modelled after street slang “кинуть палку” – “to throw a stick”, that is “to stick in”, to enter a sexual intercourse, with “лом” (rod, crow bar, stone breaker) corresponding to “love” and somewhat intensifying the sense.

    I understand that this kind of phonetic translation as a result of poor understanding of the foreign language mixed with creative impulse and lust for sense, and fuelled by unimaginably poor recording quality, was quite trendy in Soviet Union of the 70s and 80s, but I can’t think of further examples right now.

    I was a kid in the 80s, and we used to refer to the Beatles’ song “Please remember” as “Рыжий мемба” /Ryzhij memba/, the red-haired Memba.

    There is an ancient site called http://www.kissthisguy.com after a misheard lyric mentioned above my Michael Farris.

  16. Dennis King says:

    I asked a Parisien friend about the word. He said “It’s more like trying to imitate what the lyrics sound like. You don’t need to know the language at all. To me, “yaourter” is a recent development: the original expression is “faire du yaourt”. If I’m not mistaken, “faire du yaourt” is originally what singers do when they want to test / create the music of a song (or the song itself) but don’t have the lyrics yet: they mumble away sounds while playing.”

  17. Jason says:

    Reminds me of a prayer that got me in trouble in parochial school:

    Our father with art in heaven, Howard be thy name,
    Thy king is dumb, Thy will be dung, on earth as a tease in heaven,
    Give us this day our gamey bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we give trespasses to others.
    Lead us not into temptation but deliver us some evil.

    Sister Rafael was less than amused.

  18. Alex says:

    As I child, I used to think the first words to the American national anthem were, “Jose, can you see…” I always wondered who Jose was.

  19. johnny says:

    Hello. Thank you for this great info! Keep up the good job!

  20. molamola says:

    Didn’t understood the last part :s could you explain better please?

  21. Susan says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  22. A. Molina says:

    Buffalax did it first

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