Sunday, August 1, 2010

Help! I've Got An Earworm!

Have you ever come across a song, or an advertising jingle, that invades your consciousness and just won't leave? I am sure we all have. But there is no word for that in English. The closest I cvould find in my searching was the German word ohrwurm.

According to the Urban Dictionary -


A song that you can't get out of your head.

lit. German for "earwig"

"Someone just hummed the opening to 'Gilligan's Island' and now I got an an ohrwurm!"

There's no word for this in English, so here the Germans have the clear linguistic advantage (you can also "pre-pone" an event in German and officially "dis-invite" someone). Here's where German comes to the rescue, with Ohrwurm, literally "ear-worm." You can almost picture the cute little twit camping out in your ear, singing the inane ditty over and over, cheerfully evading your increasingly desperate attempts to silence him. He smirks arrogantly as your gaze falls upon an ice-pick...

I think we should start an official campaign to bring Ohrwurm into English. Shouldn't be too difficult. Just start telling your friends "Crap, that opening to 'Gilligan's Island' is such an earworm." When they ask you what an earworm is, tell them, and urge them to start using it in their normal conversation. Note to entrepreneurs: trademark the word "Earworm" while it's hot! While on the subject, German has a word for a song that is popular for matter of weeks and then drops into the memory hole. It's an Eintagsfliege (One-day-fly), named for the sort of flies that live only a few hours (English: Mayflies; Latin -- pricelessly -- Ephemeroptera). One-day-fly doesn't really work in English, so let's just call these songs...Ephemeroptera. OK, perhaps not.

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