I’ve always thought that the German word Ohrwurm – literally “earworm”, is an interesting concept – it’s a pretty good way of describing tinnitus, actually, though it means “music that gets stuck in your head”. It’s fascinating that German and English localise the same concept in the ear and in the brain, respectively. I like Ohrwurm, though, because it seems to exactly describe my tinnitus, which, particularly when it’s misbehaving, spirals round and round and round inside my ear. I seem to feel it physically moving – it’s that long-forgotten classroom noise still echoing down the corridors of my ear, trapped right there in my cochlea.
Now I get earworms too. Obviously, I don’t get music stuck in my head, but I do get words which do. It’s incredibly random, but I just like the feel of certain words and they get stuck, so I just have to say them in my head. They lodge in my brain. Researching the story of the War Knight and the O B Jennings, a tragedy from WWI, I was rather struck by the names of two ships also in their convoy. They were really rather redolent of their age – the Aungban and the Mirlo. They just sound right as a pair, and I keep physically thinking those names.
I’ve done this all my life. Words which seem really, really satisfying somehow. I had a phase at university where I fixated on “Crumbs!” as it seemed peculiarly apt for that stage of my life. Places are good, too: Andorra la Vella, somewhere I’ve never been, but it seems beautifully weighted, as does a phrase from the Latin I learnt at school, destricto ense, which simply means ‘with drawn sword’. The meaning doesn’t matter – the sound, or the feel of the sound, does. Latin is quantitative, or weighted verse, so I must be on the right track there, somewhere.
My husband has a kind of Ohrwurm too. An almost compulsive thing for transposing the initial letters of two words. It’s almost like a challenge to get me to lipread it correctly. So – you go and unload the washdisher. He told me tonight as a teenager he used to compulsively say things backwards – whole words or phrases, such as yrrebwarts maj. (I’d have thought it was maj yrrebwarts myself . . . ) All his examples came tumbling out: I yelped firmly – “Don’t you DARE do that as part of my listening exercises!!!!”