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A Word for a Tune Stuck in Your Head

October 23, 2001

Regarding "The Science Behind the Song Stuck in Your Head" (Oct. 17): On a recent trip to Germany, I was informed that the German language already has a word to describe what we so awkwardly in English must refer to as "a song stuck in my head."

The German word is Ohrwurm . It translates literally as "earworm" and has two meanings: the common name of the earwig, and a colloquial term for a song that gets stuck in your head.

Inspired by an old "Ripley's Believe It or Not" from my childhood (about the introduction of the word "quiz" in Boston by its being written on walls all over town), I have begun introducing this word into every conversation where there is a possible connection, which is fairly often, considering how many people complain about having an "earworm" each week. My goal is, by sheer weight of popular usage, to compel Webster's to include it in a future edition of their dictionary of the English language.

My plan is simple: I tell everyone I can about the word, and ask them to teach it to at least two others, and to begin using it in normal conversation.

The word, as I use it, has both a noun and verb form: "I have 'Sha-na-na' as an earworm" and "I earwormed him by whistling the song outside his office."


Chanhassen, Minn.


My family has found a tune that will not only erase a stuck tune but also leaves no sticky residue: Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted." Sing it loud and as flat as you can, and it works every time.

When I was taking the certified public accountant exam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' refrain "Give it away, give it away, give it away now" invaded my brain. It was loud in my head and repeated incessantly. I finally had to put my pencil down and wait it out. The section of the exam I was taking at the time was the only one I failed and had to retake.


Laguna Niguel


"Stuck tune syndrome" is a psychiatric condition known as endomusia ("Endomusia: silent recall of a melody; endomusia often appears as a type of obsessive thought," Psychiatric Dictionary; fourth edition, Hinsie and Campbell).

The persistence of the melody can truly show what an obsessive symptom is and the degree to which it is out of a person's control. Also, as anyone who experiences this irritation will attest, a remedy to this condition remains elusive to most sufferers.


Long Beach

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