Excuse me while I kiss this guy. – Jimi Hendrix

Ever been shocked to learn the lyrics to your favorite song aren’t what you’ve been singing all along?

Welcome to prosody. Prosody is what happens when we misunderstand information. It’s usually attributed to auditory information because it’s based on the time interval between events such as the sounds of spoken words. A favorite example is the Jimi Hendrix line, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” because people unfamiliar with the lyric often hear “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” The sounds are similar, the timing between the sounds allow us to recognize “the sky” versus “this guy.”

Prosody also occurs when we can’t make out what we’re seeing, but now the challenge is with the time interval between visual events, not auditory. A tactile version of prosody occurs when you have someone tap near your wrist with two fingers then tap your forearm up by your elbow with two fingers. Our skin sometimes codes the AA-BB taps as AA-B-C or A-BB-C or A-B-CC based on the time interval between taps.

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