Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Robots in Disguise in the Skies

Posted by Neal on July 4, 2007

I’m not usually tempted by movies based on videogames or toys, but sometime this weekend I want to go see Transformers. I’m curious about it because Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote the screenplay, and although they didn’t enlist me to write a poem this time, they did name a character after my brother. (It’s true; I’ve read that this character is supposed to be “a techno-geek,comic relief”, and it looks like he’s played by one Anthony Anderson.) Anyway, on to the linguistic stuff…

I remember hearing the theme song for the cartoon in the 1980s, which went like this:

The Transformers, more than meets the eye!
The Transformers, robots in disguise.

I never was sure if the second line was robots in disguise, which of course made sense, or robots in the skies, since I think the associated video at this point showed a flying Transformer. It’s like the famous kiss the sky / kiss this guy mondegreen, but with the added complication of the phonetic similarity between [d] and [ð] (th), which also contibutes to the original mondegreen. For detailed discussion of these mondegreens and a few others, complete with phonetic explanations for why they happen, check out this post at Everything2.

It seems the Transformers mondegreen is widespread, judging from the hits I get from searching for the phrase “robots in the skies.” (It also occurs in the song “Judy in Disguise,” I’ve learned.)

Some people recognized the mondegreen at the time, and in this guy’s opinion, it was a deliberate ambiguity:

I really liked that things happened on Robotech, there was a plot and drama, people changed, even died. Transformers, I dunno, there was a hint of change, and I liked the ambiguity between “Robots in Disguise” and “Robots in the Skies” as Decepticons flew over. (link)

Others only realized their error years later:

And the TSA felt compelled to inform me that Transfomer robot toys are allowed–finally confirming that they are indeed not only “robots in disguise” but also “robots in the skies,” as I always thought the cartoon theme song said. (link)

“TRANSFORMERS!! Robots in the skkkkiiieeeesssss!!”

my colleague looked at me in disdain and snapped at me.

“it’s not robots in the skies!! it’s robots in disguise!” he rolled his eyes with the most offended expression plastered on his face.

“oh. hee hee. TRANSFORMERS!! More than meets the eeeeyyyyeeee!! TRANSFORMERS!! Robots in the ski… Robots in DISGUIIIISSSEEEE!!”

my boss just laughed at me. (link)

[comment on a post about “Judy in Disguise”] You know, now that I think about it, I remember doing the exact same thing with the opening theme of the cartoon The Transformers which contained this line: The Transformers, Robots in disguise. Robots in the skies? I mean, it did show them all flying, so it could have been, right? (link)

And some haven’t realized yet:

My boys have always liked Transformers. …I remember when Jake was just a wee little guy, he would go around singing the Transformers theme song…well, he sang his own version which went “Transformers, robots in the skies!”. (link)

So my favorite tidbit about Mute Math is definitely that they recorded the theme song for the Transformers movie.

As in: “Transformers! More than meets the eye! Transformers! Robots in the skies!” (link)

2 Responses to “Robots in Disguise in the Skies”

  1. Ben Zimmer said

    With the song “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)” the confusion was perhaps intended all along, since it’s a parody of “Lucy In The Sky (With Diamonds).”

    (And let’s not forget the “Lucy” mondegreen, “The girl with colitis goes by…”)

  2. […] know, I really liked the first film I saw Shia LaBeouf in, and the second one wasn’t too bad. I was always a bit bugged by the clear misspelling of his last name, which I knew from high school […]

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