“We know he’s Jewish because his grandson had a brisk.”

We can speculate, though, that the student who wrote this is not Jewish.

But that isn’t necessarily true. Plenty of people apply misheard terminology to things they’re perfectly familiar with. Their polite friends and family don’t correct them, but probably enjoy a quiet and indulgent chuckle. Or maybe all the men in their family believe they have had brisks.

I like the idea of having a “brisk.” My student heard the unfamiliar (to him) word briss, or bris, and it wouldn’t process through his lexicon. Instead, he thought he heard a word he had heard before and assumed he was hearing it again. He must not have understood the word “brisk” either, though, since he didn’t feel the need to provide a noun for the adjective. That would explain why he didn’t hesitate to choose a word that doesn’t fit the sentence: only someone who doesn’t know what “brisk” means could imagine having one.

I wonder what would go through his mind if someone commented on a “brisk morning” or a “brisk wind.”

Or if someone offered him a nice slice of brisket at a holiday dinner.


[P.S. This example isn’t a Mondegreen, since his version makes no sense of any kind, whereas Mondegreens create strange new images. I just read one in a Facebook post: quoting the song “Davy Crockett,” someone included the line “Kilt a timber-b’ar when he was only three.” “Kilt him a b’ar” hadn’t registered as possible for the child the poster had been when she first heard the song, although I don’t imagine she had ever heard of a timber-bear either. I laughed only briefly before realizing that I had always thought Davy “grazed in the woods till he knew every tree,” evidently imagining he recognized the trees by the flavor of their foliage….]

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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