Sunday, August 29, 2010

The English term “earworm”: a literal translation of the composed German noun “Ohrwurm”

The compositum earworm is a literal translation of the German word Ohrwurm, referring to a musical form or phrase that hooks the mind and keeps playing over and over again. Oliver Sacks in his book “Musicophilia” makes the comparison with earwig insects that bore their way into the ear or mind of the listener. Though, he argues, one might be inclined to call them “brainworms,” since the brain is the organ where those catchy tunes finally stick.

My German-French dictionary tells me that the French term for naming the insect is perce-oreille. And by browsing apt French-language web pages, I am going to conclude that the word perce-oreille also has the alternate meaning of possession-taking jingle. How do earworms do in your mother tongue?

Oliver Sacks: Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes. Chapter 5 in MusicophiliaTales of Music and the Brain. First Vintage Books Edition, Random House, Inc., New York, September 2008.

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