German Word of the Week: Ohrwurm

A song, or an advertising jingle, that invades your consciousness and won’t leave.  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 fellow camping out in your ear, singing the inane ditty over and over, cheerfully evading your increasingly desperate attempts to silence him.

I want hereby to start an official campaign to bring Ohrwurm into English.  Shouldn’t be too difficult.  Just start telling your friends "Crap, that new Danii Minogue single 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.

6 thoughts on “German Word of the Week: Ohrwurm

  1. Great word, I’ve always liked it!

    In portuguese: música-chiclete (chewing-gum-song), because it sticks, it has a lot of flavor at first and become quickly insipid, like the old gums…


  2. I often heard english people say ear-wyrm. Either I misheard or they named the extreme version sticking in your head for months. I heard it a few times in german trains, teamspeak or as topic of some students in town. (Living in germany)
    Btw Ephemeroptera rules, its more epic! Eintagsfliege is such a boring word in my opinion and if you say it out of context everyone thinks about the insect.


  3. @Marcel: Nah, one-hit wonder refers to an artist that only has one hit. A One-day-fly (or “døgnfluga” in Faroese) is a song (or an act or pretty much any hit or fad) that only last for a very short while. The macarena, for example, was not a one-day-fly as it lasted quite a while whereas many now forgotten things probably were.


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