Is there a term for a catchy tune that stays in your head after you hear it? The Germans call it an earworm.

  • 8
    The German word is Ohrwurm. – Mehper C. Palavuzlar Aug 13 '10 at 19:41
  • I call it "Back in Black." :-) – Edward Tanguay Aug 13 '10 at 23:34
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    Mark Twain wrote the short story Punch, Brothers, Punch about this phenomenon, but didn't have a specific name for it. I have heard earworm used for it for quite a while, although I don't know when the earliest usage I heard was. – Peter Shor Jul 28 '11 at 14:52
  • Unfortunately, the corn earworm totally swamps any search for the term "earworm" or "ear worm", but "earworm" is the term I have used for a decade, at least. – Hot Licks Oct 30 '17 at 20:10
  • I am reminded that there was a Star Trek episode (likely in TNG from 1987-94) where some sort of worm would enter a victim's ear and take over their brain. To the large number of young people who saw this episode "earworm" would have a strong association, making it "catch on". – Hot Licks Oct 3 '18 at 1:30

I have never heard of a single word, but the phrase "stuck in your head" comes to mind.


In English it is called earworm or sticky tune.

  • 5
    Sticky tune? May I ask where you heard that? I don't remember running across it in the U.S. – mmyers Aug 13 '10 at 19:51
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    +1 I did not know that was a German-origin term – cori Aug 13 '10 at 20:40
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    I've never heard of either of these words. – delete Aug 14 '10 at 3:22
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    "Earworm" as an English word is a bit of a neologism, but catching on fast. I heard it about ten years ago. I didn't know it was a calque from German though. – AlexC Aug 24 '10 at 13:58
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    Upvote for earworm; downvote for sticky tune. Separate this into two answers? – Mathieu K. Aug 21 '18 at 17:09

Most songs, especially of the pop variety, tend to contain a "hook" which is designed to, well, hook into your mind. Not quite the answer to your question but a part of it. You can read more about musical hooks on Wikipedia.

  • 2
    Perhaps songs like this ought to be known as "hookers". Oh wait, that's something quite different... – Mark Embling Aug 16 '10 at 13:00


Having said which, I prefer to use "earworm" these days because "jingle" has such an overwhelming association with advertising.


Sometimes the word "brainwashed" is used to express the state of having a tune stuck in one's head:

I'm brainwashed with that tune

Note that applies to the state of the person, not to the tune itself.

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