Pink Rollers.CroppedShiny convertible and very pink house to the contrary, Barbie’s life has not always been easy. We know the poor doll found math hard—she said so herself. But did she really say WTF? These are the swear words a distraught mother claims came out of the mouth of the Barbie doll she bought her seven-year-old daughter. Not everyone hears those particular words, however. When the UK’s Daily Mirror posted a recording of the doll for readers to judge, one woman heard Off the hook!

This scandal may boost the bottom line of the Mirror, but it also reminds us of something important. Hearing is a mechanical act that implicates tubes and tiny hairs and that strange snail-shaped cochlea. What is key, however, is our ability to process what we hear. That it’s often a challenge is clear from the popularity of a site that catalogues mondegreens, a cheeky term for misheard words. One of the most quoted is from Bruce Springsteen’s first single, “Blinded by the Light,” which was redone at lightning speed by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The original line is:

 Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night

Some people heard:

 Wrapped up like a douche, another rubber in the night

 Given the pimple-cream years I slept in brush rollers, my favorite take on the line is:

 You look like Medusa in hair rollers at night

Mishearing is hardly surprising given the many bits and bytes of information that swirl around us.  Integrating everything we hear is hard work—it’s amazing we are not reduced to a pool of drool by the end of each and every day. In this regard, the hearing process is similar to the learning process. I remember the ardent words of Australian educator Garth Boomer when he insisted teachers think about how challenging it is to learn something profoundly new. To accommodate it, he said, we have to shift everything else around, adjust our memories, alter our assumptions.  (Muscling a new couch into an old room changes everything. Just ask that tall blonde babe about her Dream House.) It’s sad but hardly surprising that we have a bias against new and creative ideas.

Like that upset mother, I have had my own WTF moments.  I, too, have struggled to integrate the stupefyingly shocking things I have heard–and though I like to think I have developed powerful coping skills, that certainty disappears each time  my dreams are haunted by the spectre of an unfiltered Barbie in hair rollers at night …


 I think they should have a Barbie with a buzz cut.Ellen DeGeneres