1538: Lyrics

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To me, trying to understand song lyrics feels like when I see text in a dream but it𝔰 hอᵣd t₀ ᵣeₐd aกd 𝒾 canٖt fཱྀcu༧༦࿐༄
Title text: To me, trying to understand song lyrics feels like when I see text in a dream but it𝔰 hอᵣd t₀ ᵣeₐd aกd 𝒾 canٖt fཱྀcu༧༦࿐༄


For some modern songs, the vocalist chooses to perform the track in a way that emphasizes emotion, accent or style over clear pronunciation of the lyrics. Some forms of music, for example the Jazz style Scat, use purely nonsensical lyrics while some styles of dance music use a single line of lyrics repeated throughout the track.

There are also certain types of people that may describe themselves as "lyric deaf", which is sort of the lyrical equivalent to being tone deaf, although it doesn't have an underlying medical understanding. Some people that describe themselves as tone deaf are even quite musically capable.

The comic is illustrating (in text form) how listening to such a song feels before you have learned what the actual lyrics are. The lyrics are represented in an indecipherable way, with a few mildly recognizable words. This represents the auditory experience of being able to hear and understand some words (perhaps incorrectly), but not all of them.

Another example of this experience can be seen in this British TV commercial from the 1980s, showing someone who has misheard Desmond Dekker song Israelites so for instance the line Poor me Israelites becomes Oh-oh my ears are alight. See more details in the trivia section.

This experience is similar to that shown by the character Havelock Vetinari the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, in Terry Pratchett's Discworld book Soul Music (see part of book here). Rather than listening to music, he preferred to read the printed sheet music:

In fact the kind of music he really liked was the kind that never got played. It ruined music, in his opinion, to torment it by involving it on dried skins, bits of dead cat and lumps of metal hammered into wires and tubes. It ought to stay written down, on the page, in rows of little dots and crotchets, all neatly caught between lines. Only there was it pure. It was when people started doing things with it that the rot set in. Much better to sit quietly in a room and read the sheets, with nothing between yourself and the mind of the composer but a scribble of ink. Having it played by sweaty fat men and people with hair in their ears and spit dribbling out of the end of their oboe... well, the idea made him shudder.

For a related experience see Mondegreen.

The title text elaborates on the fact that Randall has the same experience when trying to understand song lyrics as when he sees text in his dreams. The last part of the title text is written in strange scripts to illustrate how he feels when seeing text in his dreams. Translated it says: it's hard to read and I can't focus.

Note that it looks like the song lyrics were written by drawing in a tool, like MS Paint, and then cutting out pieces and shifting them slightly.

Possible lyrics and songs[edit]

The closest guess on the lyrics is this:

I can't even tell her
Anything she wanna
Had outstanding skill
Forgetting love.

(Note that the first line also might be I can't even help her.)

It is very likely that Randall completely made up these lyrics himself and if any song coincidentally share some part of them it only happens because Randall has chosen some very cliché lyrics, that would thus be likely to occur in some pop songs.

Nevertheless, here below are some possible song references, in which the exact line from above occurs:

  • If the first line is I can't even tell her, it could come from
Joe Budden's song More of Me
From the lyrics:
World keeps spinning, learned sinners keep sinning
And I can't even tell her some fights ain't fight worthy
Cause my pops got 20 years clean, but her pops got 20 years dirty
  • If the first line is I can't even help her, it could come from:
Bill Anderson's song Baby's Blue Again
From the lyrics:
Oh Lord, and I can't even help her
All I can do is just wait
Until the clouds are all blown away
  • The second line Anything she wanna could be from:
Johnny Cinco's song She Wanna
From the lyrics:
Buy here anything she wanna
Fly in anything she wanna
Try on anything she wanna
  • The third line Had to be outstanding or kill (which is basically just a simple guess at what could be said in the line) does not make much sense and there are no songs that include such a line.
  • The fourth line Forgetting love could come from:
Chino Brown's song Love Again
From the lyrics:
I was at a point in my life
Of just forgetting love
Until the day you touched me

Or we've been nerd sniped.


[Cueball sits in a chair holding something. A speaker on a counter behind him is transmitting music. Four lines of wavy undecipherable lyrics emanate from the speaker. The lyrics are surrounded by musical notes. Below is the best attempt to write this down in text, also using capitals when they are clearly there in the comic.]
A|N⊃Г⊕N6 ƒHE W(AN NAp.
[Caption below the frame:]
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be able to understand song lyrics without looking them up.


  • The commercial mentioned in the explanation above spoofs Desmond Dekker's song Israelites.
  • The two verses used in the commercial are the 2nd and 3rd of the song as can be seen in the lyrics.
  • Below can be read the two verses, with the first line (and then every second line) being what is sung (from the lyrics) and the following lines what the guy in the street shows on his cards (as he heard it):
  • Verse 2:
  • Get up in the morning
Get up in the morning
  • slaving for bread, sir
sleeping for for bread, sir
  • So that every mouth
Sold out to every monk
  • can be fed
and beef-head
  • Poor
  • me Israelites
me ears are alight
  • Verse 3:
  • My wife an' my kids
Why find my kids?
  • them a pack up an' a leave me
They buck up and a-leave me
  • Darlin' she said,
Darling Cheese head
  • I was yours to be seen
I was yards too greasy
  • Poor
  • me Israelites
me ears are alight
  • After these two verses, there are more text from the guy while no new lines are sung:
I think that's what he says
But I need to hear it on a Maxell
(There is a picture of a cassette tape below that last line of text.)

Non-ASCII characters[edit]

Matching text Character Description Preview

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


The character I'm missing in the title is Tibetan Mark Bska- Shog Gi Mgo Rgyan U+0FD0 06:13, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

Description seems heavily referential, without a clear or concise description of the mechanisms involved. Surely there is a psychological concept associated with this, rather than "that one scat jazz song" 06:40, 16 June 2015 (UTC)

I think so too. See *lyric deafness* below. 17:36, 9 August 2018 (UTC)

I feel like Randall is talking about all songs in this comic, not just ones where the singer favours "emotion, accent or style over clear pronunciation of the lyrics". I mean, has anyone ever listened to a song and immediately understood every single lyric on the first listen? I think that's the issue Randall is trying to express. Enchantedsleeper (talk) 14:36, 16 June 2015 (UTC)


And the second Box is a Mathematical Script small I (U+1D4BE) And the First Box is a Mathematical Fraktur small S (U+1D530) I think These are the only ones, that iOS7 can't picture. ẞ qwertz (talk) 06:35, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

More fun with Unicode. Question is, which OS does Randall have that has perfect support? (It has to cover emoji and obscure glyphs like these. Likely that it's multiple devices?) Azule (talk) 06:47, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

Windows 7 here, everything displays properly for me. I don't think supporting most (or all) of the Unicode charset is as uncommon today as it used to be. 10:37, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Linux Mint 17 here, ditto. Seipas (talk) 11:05, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Most of todays operating systems have unicode support perfect, but may still lack some fonts. -- Hkmaly (talk) 12:08, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Well, http://i62.tinypic.com/258b02t.png is as far as I've so far managed to get my personal rendering. "...but it's hard to read and I can't focus ?it?" would have been be my guess. 14:28, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

I'm looking forward to finding out what the words are in English (as opposed to Unicodish). Azule (talk) 06:47, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

"...but it's hard to read and I can't focus"? Gearóid (talk) 07:48, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Misheard Lyrics

Folks. I offer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HI1hGShVdBA as the latest example of the genre. "I rub a Mexican loki" -> "I'm up all night to get lucky". Gearóid (talk) 07:02, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

Not typical example. In typical example, you can't hear the lyrics over the music, not because the singer have bad pronunciation. -- Hkmaly (talk) 12:08, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Still, could be added to the explanation that "misheard lyrics" is its own genre on Youtube. Notable example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gg5_mlQOsUQ -- 21:02, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

...Songs still have lyrics these days? {turns on the radio} BWWWUWWUWUWUWUB {turns off the radio}

I sometimes observe that while dreaming, I can read the seemingly intelligible text perfectly well, but it changes every time I look back at it. -- 09:04, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

Title possibly inspired by http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1732348/regex-match-open-tags-except-xhtml-self-contained-tags/1732454#1732454 (however, there is a lot of stuff like that) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Why a phone? Why cannot Cueball be holding a tablet? -- RChandra (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Can it be remote control to the radio he's listening to? Or CD case with printed lyrics? I don't know how phone would fit the story. 13:18, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

For non-native English speakers is even funnier: you look up the lyrics after giving up on deciphering what it says and think: "After so many years studying this language, is *that huge* the comprehension gap between natives and I"? Then you find that natives don't pick up the lyrics either. 13:20, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

Don't look up the lyrics. Whatever you imagine it to be is likely better, and if you can't tell what it is and have no idea: Consider yourself lucky. "If I could be so lucky, lucky, lucky!". 13:46, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

I'm the person that can hear all the lyrics without looking them up. I can't turn it off, and then my brain analyses what they actually mean. Trust me, you're better off not being able to understand them. They suck. Andyd273 (talk) 14:05, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

I only have that after looking up the lyrics. (non-native english speaker). I think I somewhat agree with you. -- 15:35, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

I have a theory that the producers add lyrics to the songs so that they can be easily looked up (I hear song => don't know what it is => look up lyrics => figure out what the song it was), yet it is hard to understand clearly so it wouldn't detract from the music. 22:20, 23 September 2015 (UTC)

Attempt at translating

Please feel free to add suggestions below those I have given here. I write first each line in the attempt I have given at typing what is actually written (of course not possible), and then the next line (indented) with the words I think should be there. I have already two possible interpretations of one line. So please just ad an :or and a new line here below. Then note below with a signature that you have added more lines here. Maybe we can include some of the best guesses in the explanation. I do not think this will turn out to be a real song we can find the lyrics to, but I would be very interested in good suggestions. --Kynde (talk) 15:02, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

I can't even tell her
I can't even help her
I can't f-en please her ("plussee th-er")

And ???? she can ???.
And ???? she wanna.
Finding she can nap
Finding she wanna.
Anything she wants ta (to?)
Anything she wants can have (wa' can 'haf)

Had be ????????????? kill…
Had be ous tanning or I'll ? -- 15:26, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Had be >autsaining< (outstanding?) or kill
Had ße aut?????? I'll (Had me out, saying "I will¨)
Had to be outstanding girl
I'm pretty certain that what looks like a "K" is just the right half of the "R" in "OR," making it "I'LL" or "ILL" and not "KILL" 02:26, 20 June 2015 (UTC)
For ????????? Loooveee?-
Foorgetting Looooveee
For tiny gloooooooove
For Tina's Looooooveee
Forgotten Love -- 15:26, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Please just fill in more suggestions above--Kynde (talk) 15:02, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Added some. Apearently someone can't tell some sleeping girl something because she is asleep and therefore not listening. He/she did not know the girl could nap before he found out she was asleep. The rest as of yet makes even less sense. What would the genre of this song be? -- 15:35, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
The drawn out "loooooove" makes me think pop. -Captain Video (talk) 16:55, 15 June 2015 (UTC)
Added some of my own. I think it makes slightly more sense now, if you pick the right ones. Others are just silly. 15:54, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

The structure of the lyrics (four lines of equal length) suggests the standard A/B/A/B rhyme scheme, which could in theory help decipher them. In practice, the final syllables of each line appear to be her/nap/-ill/love, which make no musical sense. - Captain Video (talk) 16:55, 15 June 2015 (UTC)


I'm pretty sure I've seen the Transcript changed several times, presumably by different people, encompassing representations of 1) what it wants to be in 'normal' text, 2) what it might consist of in Unicode and 3) a compromise version of what it looks like in (mostly) non-Unicode. (As it currently stands, I still have character-missing symbols, in the transcript, on my particular platform.) Can I suggest that the transcript (and elsewhere where such things are quoted?) maybe uses something like the pattern "FOO (Bar)" for each line, "FOO" being the best-guess full Unicode representation (for the visual effect, where it works) and "Bar", here italicised and in parenthises but other formats being available, being the best-guess original text (for readability, especially for people without full Unicode support). Once the Attempt at translating, above, has settled down, of course. And how about doing the same for a 'readable' version of the Hovertext, too? You shouldn't assume that everyone who comes here is as fully equipped, font-wise, as any other contributor (or even Randall) is. Reducing to the 7-bit ASCII range of characters (i.e. #s 32-126) for the 'plaintext' version should be entirely possible and accessible to all current and future platforms, without any obvious limitations. 22:03, 15 June 2015 (UTC)

How about a png of the alt text, for those of us who are installed-font-challenged? - toadhammer 13:16, 22 June 2015 (UTC)

Lyric Deafness

As a person with Central Auditory Processing Disorder, the way Munroe described the way he hears lyrics struck a chord with me. Does anyone else relate?

As soon as I read this comic it perfectly described how I hear lyrics in basically all music, and my reaction was "oh, wow, it's not just me". I am quite musically inclined, and can play a few instruments and quite quickly learn how to play a song just be listening to it. I can also, for example, often recognize a song I haven't heard in 10 years in just a couple notes and hum along with it -- but on the flip side, I can hear a song once or twice a day for weeks, and still not even know more than a couple words in the chorus despite otherwise knowing the song note-for-note. I have to really concentrate to actually hear the words. I was surprised to see no explanation of this phenomenon here. I started searching and quickly came across the term "lyric deaf", and in fact, there have been many discussions about this that very accurately reflect my own feelings:

I added a couple sentences about this but it could probably use some good citations. People that are not themselves lyric deaf are likely unable to understand what this even means. -- Groogs (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Me too. In bands, I've even played songs countless times over many years, but couldn't tell you much of the lyrics. They're the last thing my brain manages to analyze. I've played songs that I really loved and then eventually learned the lyrics so I could sing them (if you could call what I do "singing") only to find the lyrics are cringe-worthy, or reveling in something I find abhorrent. Ugh! 17:37, 9 August 2018 (UTC)

The worst is when it does not even help looking them up - example Four five seconds
http://www.directlyrics.com/rihanna-fourfiveseconds-lyrics.html (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)