Tuesday, August 23, 2016


The experience of getting a song stuck in your head is somehow universal. A casual association reminds you of the beat or the melody or the lyrics and before you can say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" the song had taken up residence and you will be living with it for the next two or three eternities. The squatter in your brain can range from benign to maddening. Occasionally they will leave on their own, but usually they have to be forcibly evicted by (per the usual method) trying to invite a more tenacious guest to supplant them. The most disconcerting for me is when someone around me starts singing along, in sync with the song my head. Then I know that the invading troops have suborned my vocal cords and are launching a sotto vocce invasion of the world around me.

But the point is that songs aren't the only things that get stuck on mental flypaper. While earworms are the most common, I've discovered that many people experience the equivalent with their own unique mental constructs. For one of my sisters, it is typing sequences on a keyboard. One of my friends has numbers follow him around. In my case it is words.

Words that get stuck and repeat themselves in my mind for hours or days at a time are necessarily interesting. (Or at least, I only ever notice one that is uncommon.) The ones that stay the longest are those whose meaning or usage have somehow escaped me. The less I know about the word, the more insistently it presents itself, as though it is confident that this time, there must surely be a way to apply it to the situation. In these cases looking up the definition is often enough to start the eviction process.

Anyway, here are some examples of my recent thought-guests. I will post more as they come up, with far less of an introduction.
  • Hirsute
  • Inveigle
  • Anodyne
  • Philately
EDIT: It looks like I've mentioned this in passing before.


  1. I remember you getting an email with a word of the day in college. Would those peak your interest, if your introduction to a word was in its very definition?
    It's a testament to their tenacity that one of your top 3 words is still with you years later!

  2. Not right away. Sometimes they would resurface a week later, but usually the new words weren't sticky.

  3. So the words that are stuck in your head, do you hear them, see them, or do you spell them out? Maybe you should visualize their definition, like thinking of hirsute and seeing yourself with a hipster beard. Do you think that would make the word stay or go?

  4. Generally I hear them, though when they get stuck I think about how to spell them and try to remember the definition. I doubt the visualization would help--the most useful is comparing the correct context with another word of similar usage. Hirsute has been memorable because it was one of the first ones where I recognized that it was recurring and I didn't remember what it meant. After I looked it up it went away. It has recurred a few times, but never for long (probably because I have that association to help recall the definition).