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I'm not the first person to use that word, but I probably mean it in a distinctive way.  What I'm talking about is not the usual sort of earworm / öhrwurm [recte ohrwurm] that gets stuck in your brain and you just can't make it go away.  That's the usual kind, and I get it fairly often, maybe once a week or so.  The attack I had this morning was more diabolical.

It seemed that every song I heard on the radio immediately became an earworm — including music without words.  After one song was embedded in my consciousness, the next one I heard would also intrude, until they all became a jumble.

"Karma" (Taylor Swift), "Stayin' Alive" (Bee Gees), "In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle" (The Tokens and the Beach Boys), "Fast Car" (Tracy Chapman and now Luke Combs), "I Saw the Sign" (Ace of Base), "As It Was" (Harry Styles), another Taylor Swift song ("Anti-Hero") intertwining with the first…. 

About the only way to get rid of them is to go out on a long run, and think of nothing….


Selected readings


  1. Phillip Helbig said,

    September 21, 2023 @ 3:42 pm

    It’s “Ohrwurm”, not “öhrwurm” (no umlaut).

    Maybe a post on gratuitous umlauts and faux Cyrillic?

  2. Rick Bryan said,

    September 21, 2023 @ 4:47 pm

    I have long been susceptible to earworm-hijack. The fix for me is to have a specific Mozart concerto "queued up". When I need it, I can always get it started; it's complex enough to override the hijacker; and familiar enough that I don't really need to "listen" to it.

  3. BLCKDGRD said,

    September 21, 2023 @ 5:50 pm

    Alternatively, go to bandcamp and buy the new posthumous Sparklehorse


    and the new Clientele


    Get better earworms!

  4. Coby said,

    September 21, 2023 @ 7:27 pm

    Since this is Language Log, I feel the need to point out that the suffix -itis in medical language denotes an inflammation; for an otherwise unspecified condition it's -osis.

  5. Bloix said,

    September 21, 2023 @ 8:55 pm

    OT, I'm afraid, but anyone who likes The Lion Sleeps Tonight might like this:
    "Episode ninety-two of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, and at a seventy-year-long story of powerful people repeatedly ripping off less powerful people, then themselves being ripped off in turn by more powerful people, and at how racism meant that a song that earned fifteen million dollars for other people paid its composer ten shillings."

  6. JPL said,

    September 22, 2023 @ 12:56 am


    I don't know anything about The Tokens, but I know that song from Miriam Makeba's version, as in this live clip, where she sings it in Zulu:

    Both "wimoweh" and the reader's pronunciation of "mbube" are off the mark, as you can hear when Ms Makeba pronounces the phrase at :21, after saying "… a song about the lion hunt". Not sure about the precise meaning of the phrase, but I'll try to find out. (Sorry about continuing the diversion, but at least it could be a song that would interfere with VHM's earworm attack.)

  7. Paul Herzberg said,

    September 22, 2023 @ 5:23 am

    Apparently, an untreated earworm can last for seven hours and 15 days.

  8. Rodger C said,

    September 22, 2023 @ 10:21 am

    For those of a certain age, earworms and gratuitous umlauts go together.

  9. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    September 22, 2023 @ 11:54 am

    Mark L had a post about gratuitous umlaut years ago…

  10. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    September 22, 2023 @ 11:59 am


    It'll be interesting to see if the spam filter blocks this

  11. maidhc said,

    September 22, 2023 @ 11:48 pm

    The best version of that lion song is the original, by Solomon Linda.


  12. maidhc said,

    September 23, 2023 @ 5:25 am

    Here is a video about "Mbube". There are some others, but this one seems to cover the main points.


  13. RP said,

    September 23, 2023 @ 12:45 pm

    @Paul Herzberg

    I see what you did there. And now also hear it, of course.

    I would note that if you are a musical theater buff, you may find an earworm lasts rather longer, five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes to be exact.

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