Sometimes after listening to a popular song you can't stop repeating it in your head. Is there any term for this in English? You can't say the same in Russian using one word.

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    – Aric
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 12:21
  • Doesn't actually have to be a popular song. or FTM even a song in the sense that it has words. Same thing happens to me with bits of classical music...
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 17:22
  • FYI: How are musical hooks defined/studied in psychology?
    – Ooker
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 11:12

6 Answers 6


You can use "Earworm" which means:

a song or melody that keeps repeating in one's mind

  • 26
    Was just about to say this, haha. I've never heard the word used before, it's more common to say "I have a song stuck in my head" in my experience. If someone told me they had an earworm I'd ask them to see a doctor. But hey, the word exists anyway
    – Aric
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 12:20
  • 14
    Earworm is widespread well outside groups connected with SF or fantasy fandom. I think I might have to explain it to my grandmother, or someone who has been in a coma for some years, and has just regained consciousness, but most ordinary people here in the UK would know what it means. The earliest known usage is in Desmond Bagley's 1978 novel Flyaway. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 13:03
  • 8
    I agree with Michael that it’s not all that new or rare. DJ Earworm has been doing the mashups he’s famous for since 2007, and I was familiar with the term for years before that...
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 13:08
  • 9
    Western US native English speaker: I've never heard the term "Earworm" or "Brainworm" before, learned something new today, thanks! I would just say a song is "stuck in my head" like Kamil's answer. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 17:33
  • 7
    Native US English speaker here. I find "earworm" is more used when talking about the phenomenon or when mentioning such a song with the explicit intent to get it stuck in someone's head (e.g. "hey, here's an earworm for you" along with a Rick Astley youtube link) whereas "stuck in [your/my] head" is more often used for talking about the feeling of actually being in that state. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 19:19

You could say the song is "stuck in your head". I haven't found a dictionary listing the phrase, but here's a Time article on the subject, with the title "Why Do Songs Get Stuck In Your Head?"

For example usage, to express "after listening to a popular song you can't stop repeating it in your head" I would say:

I heard [popular song] on the radio, and now it's stuck in my head.

"Earworm" is a very related term. Essentially, if a song gets stuck in peoples' heads frequently then it can be called an earworm. On the other hand, the phrase "stuck in your head" is how you talk about a specific time when it happened, such as "it's stuck in my head right now" or "it was stuck in my head when I left yesterday".

  • 20
    FWIW, as a native English speaker in the US, I have never heard the term "Earworm", I would just say the song is stuck in my head. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 17:31

The German Wikipedia on "Ohrwurm" lists earworm as a loanword from German. To be more precise, it is a calque (thanks @PLL), a word for word translation of the two parts Ohr and Wurm (ear and worm).

It also has other suggestions: sticky music, head music and the English Wikipedia on loanwords calls it catchy tune.

Based on the comments by two native speakers and their up votes - those suggestions are even less used. Catchy tune is better used for an appealing and memorable tune rather than a song which is stuck in your head at the moment.

  • 18
    As an American native speaker, I don't think I've ever used the terms "sticky music" or "head music" used in this way. A "catchy tune" is a tune which is appealing and memorable; it's not the right phrase to use for a tune which is stuck in your head at that moment. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 16:02
  • 1
    @TannerSwett As a British native speaker, I agree with everything in your comment. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 17:49
  • @TannerSwett thank you for that addition. I've integrated your remarks into my answer. German English tends to introduce new words which native speakers never heard or use it in a completely different way - that's why I was cautious.
    – Arsenal
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 7:01
  • I’ve also never heard of sticky music; it rather sounds like a song about molasses. Odd term. Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 9:25
  • 1
    Just to elaborate on a detail: earworm is not precisely a loanword, but rather a calque of Ohrwurm. A loanword would be something like zeitgeist, where the German word itself gets used in English; a calque is when a word or phrase gets translated component-by-component, like Ohrwurm becoming earworm. (Just to keep things fun, calque itself is a loanword from French, whereas loanword is a calque of the German Lehnwort.)
    – PLL
    Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 19:50

Another term I've hear used is "song virus". Surprisingly to me, I couldn't find this listed anywhere other than Urban Dictionary, but it's definitely a usage I've heard as an American native speaker.

  • 3
    As another American, I can't recall ever hearing that term used before. Maybe it's a regional term? Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 19:06
  • @JohnMontgomery I polled a couple people that I know and they recognized it. I guess it could be regional. The term also connotes the song being spreadable from person to person, not just being stuck in your own head. Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 2:11
  • 1
    I've never heard this myself, but if I heard it (and had a little bit of context), it would be pretty understandable.
    – Soron
    Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 8:08

You can use hook:

Catchy part of a song that draws in the listener, not necessarily the chorus.

  • 1
    Thanks for contributing - just a few pointers to help improve this answer. Urban dictionary tends to be a less reputable source for definitions, as anybody can add to it and many are jokes - where possible, I'd recommend something like Oxford English or Merriam Webster. Oxford English contains the definition for "hook" that you're describing. I'd also tend to make it clear what the word is, its definition and why you feel it's most appropriate - rather than leaving it to the link (which may become unavailable in future). (OE hook (2.1): en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/hook)
    – user68033
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 8:48
  • 4
    That is a word, but it doesn't really have anything to do with what's asked here - it's something that describes a part of the structure of a song, it doesn't have anything to do with the state of the listener.
    – Cubic
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 10:22

The word I've heard is "earbug".

Here's the example there:

Person 1: Why are you acting so weird?

Person 2: Sorry, I have an earbug. I can't get this stupid Metallica song out of my head.

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