informal: a catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person’s mind.
Growing up in the country, my only concept or knowledge of an earworm was the corn earworm. Then somewhere around 1980 the term began to become part of the common vernacular, although it was many years before I heard of it in reference to music.
Sometimes known as a brainworm, an earworm can also be a phrase or even just a word that keeps running in circles in your head — at least for me. I recently had several days where the name of a blogger, BunKaryudo, kept popping into my head. I will never understand why particular words or phrases get stuck in my head. Maybe something about the sound of the word/s appeals to my brain, who knows?
I doubt there is a week that goes by I don’t have one or two earworms floating in and out of my head at odd times. Recent ones have been the lyrics to The Beverly Hillbillies theme song and the lyrics to the Mr. Ed theme song (if you don’t know that show, you can watch episodes on YouTube).
My sister and brother-in-law often watch The Andy Griffith Show on the TVLand network and since I live with them it’s not uncommon for that whistled tune to get stuck in my head. (I find it interesting that one report I read stated the most frequent earworms are Lady Gaga songs. Ummm, not my cup of tea.)
It is little comfort to know I’m not alone in being plagued with the dang things. Apparently, earworms happen to 98% of people. It seems, too, that while women and men experience the phenomenon equally often, earworms tend to last longer for women and irritate them more.
Now, that last statistic leaves the perfect opening for implying that earworms don’t bother men as much because they have such simple minds. But since I happen to know men whose minds aren’t so simple, I’m going to leave that alone.
One researcher posited that when we listen to music it triggers the part of our brain that processes auditory information, thus earworms are a form of involuntary music memory. When we hear a familiar tune our mind fills in the rest, repeatedly. He called them “tune wedgies”, which I think is a more accurate term.
That report holds up my theory that certain tunes get stuck in my head because it was the last song on the radio when I turned off the car, something on TV just before I turned it off, or even a tune heard in passing while shopping. I believe it’s just as likely because of a random memory or thought that travels through my brain’s pathways as it is because I heard something in passing.
And yes, they do drive me nuts sometimes, but it is difficult to stop them. I can distract myself and stop the recording for a bit but the tune will come back unexpectedly. Sometimes a tune will recur again and again over several days, so sleep obviously doesn’t stop them.
Working an anagram — not my strong suit — will supposedly work to stop them by “distracting” your brain. Others claim chewing gum works. What more often works for me with a tune is to look up the full lyrics. If I don’t know the name of the song, Google really comes in handy.
What was the most recent earworm to get stuck in your head? Do you have one or more tunes or phrases that tend to get stuck in your head more often than others? What tricks do you use to stop the cycle?
And if these cartoons give you an earworm . . . you’re welcome.