Making up Lyrics to Songs, Listening to Bad Grammar

All too often, I make up lyrics to songs. Half the time I know I’m not singing the right words, but occasionally it’s fun to pretend jargon has meaning. It wasn’t until I started watching TV in my new apartment that I realized how often I make up lyrics when I can’t decipher what singers are saying. My TV has closed captioning. I haven’t bothered to figure out how to turn it off, so any time a performer appears on Dave Letterman, or whenever a song is playing in the background of a show, I see the lyrics and experience an “Ohhh” moment.

When the song “Linger” comes on the radio, for instance, I usually sing, “You know I’m searching food for you.” But when reading the lyrics on my TV screen the other night, I learned that the Cranberries are actually singing: “You know I’m such a fool for you.” “Searching food for you” doesn’t make much sense, especially when put in context, but phonetically, the lyrics sounded right, and they stuck with me.

Sometimes I just mumble words and don’t even pretend to know the lyrics, like when I listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, “Under the Bridge.” At the end of the song, when the tone gets high-pitched, I usually sing, “da na na na da na.” Oddly enough, the lyrics I can’t decipher are perhaps the most important ones of the song: “Under the bridge downtown/Is where I drew some blood
Under the bridge downtown/I could not get enough/Under the bridge downtown/Forgot about my love/Under the bridge downtown
I gave my life away.” It’s funny how important messages can get muffled by misunderstandings.

I’ve also been singing the incorrect lyrics to Timbaland’s “The Way I Are.” I always thought the title, and the corresponding lyrics, were “Handle me the way you are.” I found out I had been singing it wrong after listening to a humorous podcast called “The Angry Grammarian.” Podcast number seven lists several songs with grammatically incorrect lyrics. You’d be surprised how often grammar is butchered in songs.

American Idol star Clay Aikon’s song, “If I Was Invisible” used to bug the heck out of me when I heard it on the radio. The title, and the related chorus, should be “If I Were Invisible.” Alas, I guess Simon doesn’t care so much about grammar.

Some of the discussion groups in the “Good Grammar Is Hot” Facebook group are entertaining/intriguing … not that I read them or anything. There are almost 1,400 discussion groups, and I’m sure at least one of them mentions bad grammar in songs.

Do you have any examples of made-up lyrics that you sing, or of songs that have bad grammar? Are there any songs you know of in which bad grammar sounds better than regular grammar?

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

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