Tech & Work

Exterminating the dreaded earworm

Need a break from IT? Need a breather from the trials of the workplace? How about we skip all that today and talk about me? Or rather, one of my more freakish quirks?

Have you ever been, say, walking through a store and find yourself unconsciously humming some stupid, insidious song and you don't know where it came from? You catch yourself, try to shake it off, but then an hour or so later you catch yourself humming or singing it again? Well, I do. So much so that I finally had to google "stupid song stuck in my head" to see what was going on. And because of good ole Google, I found that I am apparently not alone. The Germans even created a term for these songs—ohrwurms. (In English, they're called earworms.) According to marketing professor James J. Kellaris, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati, there is no known cure and they can attack anyone at any time (like hiccups, I spoze).

And the songs are never good songs. They're always jingles or vapid pop tunes that you would never consciously retain. Kellaris did an earworm study in 2003 of 559 students of an average age of 23. According to this article, the top ten earworms from which they suffered were:

  1. Other. Everyone has his or her own worst earworm.
  2. Chili's "Baby Back Ribs" jingle.
  3. "Who Let the Dogs Out"
  4. "We Will Rock You"
  5. Kit-Kat candy-bar jingle ("Gimme a Break ...")
  6. "Mission Impossible" theme
  7. "YMCA"
  8. "Whoomp, There It Is"
  9. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
  10. "It's a Small World After All"

But back to me. Yesterday for some godawful reason, I was cleaning the house singing the theme from Smokey and the Bandit. People, that's a movie from 1977! What is wrong with me? Do I have some kind of corrupted chip that cycles through crappy songs from my childhood and then systemically tortures me with them? There I was looking at my dog and going, "East bound and down, loadin' up and truckin'…" He just stared at me for a moment and then backed slowly out of the room. Last week I found myself singing "I like big butts and I cannot lie..." Mother of Mary what a horrible song! Why was it in my head?

The study above claims that more women than men are afflicted (check), that the more neurotic you are, the more likely you'll be affected (check), and that you are more likely to experience these attacks of tuneful masochism if you are prone to tapping your pencil or tapping your foot (check). I'm doomed.

My coworkers have caught on to my affliction and have not been kind. Just the other day someone smiled at me and spoke one simple word: Copacabana. Oh, the humanity!

Kellaris speculates that some people find they can only end the repetition by hearing the song in its entirety. Frankly, I'd rather be lobotomized.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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