Take, for instance, my post of 22 August, in which I described remembering different lyrics to a Gilbert and Sullivan tune than the ones I found in the libretto online:
A perfectly sensible alternate lyric, but apparently manufactured out of thin air by my brain, as near as I can tell (viz., via Google search). I understand how misheard lyrics can become engraved in one’s memory, but this is a different kind of error altogether. How on earth could I have made it?
Since writing that, I recollected another difference between the version I remember from twenty-odd years ago, and the version I’ve watched, read, and listened to lately with my kids. In the song, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” General Stanley “now” sings,
In fact when I know what is meant by mamelon and ravelin
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin
…but I remember “chassepot rifle” instead of “Mauser rifle.” Twenty-odd years ago, “chassepot” sent me to the dictionary. To date it’s the one and only context in which I’ve seen that word. Having just now confirmed its existence and its meaning, I am certain I cannot be confusing my memory of that word with any other possible source. Furthermore, I’ve found other online mentions of “chassepot” in Pirates of Penzance. And yet there’s no trace of it in the written or recorded versions I’ve been enjoying lately.
Which leads me to the disturbing conclusion that there is an alternate version of the libretto of which the Internet has almost no record whatever — a version I must have seen in my high school or college library and have now all but forgotten, save for these tiny differences. If I were to track down that version now I’m sure I would find my “no hint at all reveal” lyric in it. But the point is I can’t track it down online.
A cautionary tale for armchair researchers everywhere.