Every so often I'll hear a phrase that forms part of a song or phrase that I know. Suddenly I can hear the song playing in my head or my mind finishes off the phrase. What is the correct phrase/word for this sort of unconscious surfacing of memories that then intermingle with what I'm currently hearing?

For instance I might hear someone say: Treacle Pudding

The words are unrelated, but the intonation reminds me of the Goldfinger theme tune, so my head tries to finish of the song with the words Tracle Pudding in place of Goldfinger

Another example is I'll hear the words, with the wrong intonation, but my brain still picks up the phrase of song lyrics and it plays out in my head.

This has nothing to do with smells, sight or any other input.

  • The word or phrase triggers it, as in it's not a conscious effort to bring back that memory. It happens, I'm sure with others triggers (smells, sights etc) but mostly for me with words. Jan 19, 2012 at 18:41
  • Do you mean, for example, how the scent of a particular perfume may always make you think of your grandmother (who wore that)? And are you looking for a word for the triggering pereception or the resulting memory? Jan 19, 2012 at 18:44
  • The triggered memory, but specifically the memory is a continuation of a phrase you heard. Jan 19, 2012 at 18:55
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  • @Mitch see my edit. Apr 17, 2018 at 7:36

7 Answers 7


The word I would use is Proustian, particularly when the memories are brought to the surface through the sense of taste.

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    The most famous incident in Proust's colossal novel 'À La Recherche du Temps Perdu' is when the narrator tastes a madeleine cake dipped in cup of tea. The experience brings memories of his childhood flooding back and with them the story of his whole life which turns into the novel itself. Jan 19, 2012 at 18:55
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    You need to be careful because using it depends on people picking up the reference. And it may be best kept for substantial memories, like Proust's, unless you use it for comic effect. Jan 19, 2012 at 19:05
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    Actually, I tend to call something like that a madeleine moment. Firstly I like the alliteration, and secondly in my experience that incident is such a cliche people are actually more likely to understand the reference to madeleine than to Proust. Although it's true that for many people, this is the only thing they know about Proust (apart from the fact that he was French and probably a writer). Jan 19, 2012 at 19:37
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    @Pureferret: I must have used the word/expression hundreds if not thousands of times over the years, in reference to that particular episode in Proust's novel. Or more precisely, in reference to the kind of "memory rush/flashback" involved. But the honest truth is I don't actually know exactly what a madeleine cake is. Some kind of bite-sized sponge cake, I suppose - good for dunking in tea/coffee before we invented digestive biscuits for that specific purpose. Jan 19, 2012 at 22:08
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    This really depends on the literary circles in which you move. To many (myself at the top of the list), a madeleine moment would be getting your appendix out. Jan 19, 2012 at 23:03

Anamnesis describes the recollection or remembrance of things past; for example, this CD is titled "Anamnesis" as "a lure to memories that live in music."

(Proust's novel might have been less successful had he called it Anamnesis, however.)

  • Does that cover memories surfacing with specific provocation? the examples in the link and other dictionaries seem a little sparse/unclear. Jan 19, 2012 at 22:20
  • It's used in that context, as in this example.
    – Gnawme
    Jan 20, 2012 at 0:23
  • I guess it is a sort of Anamnesis in that sense. Jan 20, 2012 at 10:55

it might be evoke : To call to mind by naming, citing, or suggesting.

Songs that evoke old memories.

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    If evoked served the purpose, there would have been no need to qualify it with 'old memories' - clearly, it is insufficient.
    – Kris
    Jan 20, 2012 at 6:53

I've heard this described as having a flashback, though NOAD has it as only a negative experience:

• a sudden and disturbing vivid memory of an event in the past, typically as the result of psychological trauma or taking LSD.

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    I'm surprised NOAD specifically goes out of its way to say "and disturbing". Maybe too many of their editorial staff had bad trips! Jan 19, 2012 at 19:39

Nostalgia - a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.


Are you talking about sense memory or affective memory?

You might be interested to explore some concepts from the fields of cognitive science & cognitive psychology; like sensory recall, associative recall, involuntary memory retrieval, priming, semantic popping & spreading activation.


I recently came across a word that feels like it more accurately describes my experience I'm trying to describe.

Mind-pops are more often words or phrases than images or sounds and they usually happen when someone is in the middle of a habitual activity that does not demand much concentration—perhaps when they are brushing their teeth or tying their shoes.

Ferris Jabr, "Mind-Pops: Psychologists Begin to Study an Unusual form of Proustian Memory," Scientific American, May 23, 2012

I've not read that issue of Scientific American, but the usage fits my experience.

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