Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business

Like a Catchy Tune, UC Marketing Professor Makes Earworm Definition Stick

Monday, December 19, 2016 6:24 PM
Word officially adopted into dictionary.
James Kellaris

James Kellaris

The word earworm—introduced into the American vocabulary by UC marketing Professor James Kellaris—has made its way into the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

The earworm definition, a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind, is on the list of new words being added to the 2012 update.

Kellaris, the James S. Womack/Gemini Chair of Signage and Visual Marketing in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, first introduced the term in his 2001 research, “Identifying Properties of Tunes That Get Stuck in Your Head.”

In the wake of his initial research, the media reported his findings and “fellow musicians and academics started calling me ‘Dr. Earworm,’ " Kellaris says.

“It’s been a tough nickname to shake,” he says. “After enduring years of teasing, it’s gratifying to see a term I introduced into the American vocabulary officially recognized.”

Kellaris says he borrowed the word Ohrwurm from the German language and popularized its use in English translation to mean when a catchy song gets stuck in year head. Kellaris says its meaning conveys the parasitic nature of songs into listeners’ ears, only then to get lodged and played on a continuous loop.

According to Kellaris’ research, 98% of individuals experience earworms. Women and men experience the phenomenon equally often, but earworms tend to last longer for women and to irritate them more than men. Musicians may be affected more than others because of higher exposure levels and repetition encountered in rehearsal.

The 114-year-old dictionary based in Springfield, Massachusetts, provides annual word updates, with a cover-to-cover overhaul each decade.