The Earworm Ouroboros

Feb162008

Lani just e-mailed Krissie and me and said that she’d heard “My loves grows where my Rosemary goes” yesterday and now she can’t get out of her head.

Krissie e-mailed back with “It’s a Small World After All.”

So I sent them the lyrics to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” That chorus is a killer.

I knew there was a name for them, the annoying songs that you cannot get out of replay in your brain, so I googled: They’re earworms and it turns out the reason you can’t dump them is that your brain pays more attention to unfinished things. According to Bill Thompson at the University of Toronto, the key culprits are simplicity, repetition and circularity, and the worst of these is circularity; a song with a circular structure (verse/chorus/verse/chorus) will just cycle in your head endlessly eating its own tail while your brain tries to find the place that it ends. And evidently almost all brains do it: according to another study, ninety-eight percent of people are afflicted with earworms at one time or another, and seventeen percent of people have had the problem last for days (“Dissecting Earworms: Further Evidence on the ‘Song-Stuck-in-Your Head’ Phenomenon, James J. Kellaris, PhD, presentation to Society for Consumer Psychology, Feb. 22, 2003).

The part that stuck with me was the brain being consumed by the unfinished. This explains why writing a book can be so hellish: it takes a year to finish the sucker and your brain knows it’s not done. So you stare off into space, trying to find the end, your brain going into meltdown because the book is just too damn big, placated somewhat by the idea of acts and scenes, but knowing all along that It’s Not Finished and haunting your dreams. You think having “Who Let The Dogs Out?” stuck in your head is bad, try having You Again.

So what are the worst offenders? James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati compiled a top ten list, but the top spot is “Other;” that is, most people get something individual like “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” or “The Mesopotamians” on their endless loops. We are specific in our attachments. But there were nine frequent earworms that followed “Other”. Read on at your own peril:

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”

Well, I warned you. And here’s the bad news: There appears to be no sure cure for earworms. Two thirds of the people Kellaris surveyed tried to get rid of the earworm by listening to another song, the dangers of which are obvious. Many people swear that passing the bug onto someone else does the trick. I’d write more but I must go e-mail Krissie and Lani the lyrics to “YMCA.” Just the chorus.

So what’s in your head?

Filed in X (Everything Else)

99 Comments to 'The Earworm Ouroboros'

On February 16, 2008 at 10:26 pm liz said...

ha ha ha!! i always get songs stuck in my head and i usually have no idea where i heard them! lately i have had the songs that we play at work to get the kids to take a nap stuck in my head. thanks for giving me a name for the problem that haunts me!

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:30 pm talpianna said...

None at the moment, thank God! Did you ever read Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man? The premise: How do you commit premeditated murder in a society in which cops are telepathic? Answer: Get an earworm! It masks anything going on underneath.

The story also has a blind voyeur.

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:30 pm McB said...

Off topic, sorry, but did you know, Jenny, that Bruce Campbell has written a couple of books? Neither did I until today at the library. I haven’t read it yet, but I found what seems to be the second one “Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way.” I have no idea if it will be any good, but I had to get it. I’ll let you know what I think.

And he apparantly did an autobiography called “If Chins Could Kill, Confessions of a B Movie Actor.” Library didn’t have that one, but I’m going to persevere … especially if the first book is any good.

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:33 pm Jess said...

Ah! I have this problem ALL the time! Most recently it was … huh, would you believe NOW I can’t think of it? :D

Right now, nothing is in my head.

I find an unusual cure for earworms is to find the song stuck in your head and play it. This works best for songs where you only remember snatches, like a few lines or the chorus, so that your brain hears the rest of it and signals to stop looping.

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:36 pm McB said...

And now back to the regulary scheduled program. Ironically I had Rosemary Grows burrowing into my brain not long ago as well. I find it’s just best to go with it, rather than fight it. Fighting just makes the worms more stubborn.

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:41 pm Jenny said...

I loved If Chins Could Talk. But then, I’m a Campbell groupie from way back.

And I have the Rosemary song stuck in my head now, no matter what I do. Son of a Rich must pay.

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:55 pm Laura said...

I just recently read about the background/history of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Interesting, if a bit long.
http://www.3rdearmusic.com/forum/mbube2.html

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:57 pm toni said...

Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone by Bill Withers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlAgwd5JGPo

seven days so far…

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On February 16, 2008 at 10:58 pm Caryn said...

My two worst offenders are “I Wanna Live in America” (or something like that) from West Side Story and “Celito Lindo”, which is not only catchy but sung in Spanish, making it harder for me to remember the lyrics. I once went on a three-day raft trip through the wilderness with “Amie” by Pure Prairie League in my head. Not sure how it got there, but since we had no electricity I was helpless to stop it. I’ve heard it’s worst if you only hear part of a song, so now if I arrive somewhere and my car radio (for example) is playing a particularly catchy song I try to stay until the end of it, or I know I’ll be in trouble. (I almost never am without a song in my head. Truly.)

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:03 pm Merry said...

fingers in my ears

La la la la la I can’t hear anything la la la

oh damn. “I wanna live in America/I wanna live in America”

La la la willpower la la la

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:07 pm Gina said...

I’ve had the song Show Me from My Fair Lady playing there lately. Its almost a romance writer’s lament . . .

Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars Burning above;
If you’re in love, Show me!

Oy.

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:07 pm Courtney De said...

I work at a lovely, lovely little place called the World Market, where the corporate office has been piping in some of the same songs, off and on, for 8 years or more. Seriously, I wake myself up at night to stop them from playing in my head. I scared the hell out of my mother over the Xmas holidays by suddenly covering my ears and screaming, “Noooo! Noooo! Make it stop!” when one of the “unique” Xmas songs on her playlist turned out to be something they’d been playing ad nauseum at work. I’m considering suing for mental cruelty.

For many years, they played John Mayer songs over and over and over and over again, so now I HATE John Mayer passionately. He may, in fact, be a very lovely human being , but, nonetheless, I feel that he must die.

We never had this conversation, should anyone ever ask.

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:13 pm Steve Thorn said...

I too have had the earworm syndrome, but for me, even stranger yet, is that each morning I wake up with a song playing in my head. For a while on my blog I kept track of what the song was just so that I would have a journal of the events and maybe go back and think what would have put that song in my head.

I gave up because I could ever find any relationships. And yes, I still wake up with a song in my head. It’s like my own personal soundtrack.

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:16 pm WapakGram said...

Over at the CB Bar and Grill, a tulip discussion is going on. Tiny Tim and “Tiptoe through the tulips with me” has been stuck for quite some time now.
Anytime that I go for “It’s a Small World” to avoid another song, you know I have it bad!

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:26 pm Jenny said...

Oh, Cielito Lindo. I learned it in both Spanish and English in high school and some of it is with me still. The only thing I really remember is “ay, yi, yi, yi, gone now is sadness; her flashing eyes are like paradise, she brings gladness, Cielito Lindo.” None of which is in the Wikipedia lyric. But here’s the Spanish.

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On April 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm Bob Paine said...

Yes! Those are the words I learned in 5th grade in the 60′s.
“Down from Sierra Morena there comes the lovely Cielito Lindo.
Tripping down right into the town comes the lovely Cielito Lindo.
Ay, ay, ay, ay, Gone now is sadness
Your flashing eyes are like paradise, they bring gladness Cielito Lindo.

You may be right Her, not Your flashing eyes. After all, that was 1961-62 and I haven’t seen the songbook we had since. Contact me at “couponbob77@yahoo.com/” if this jogs your memory.

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On April 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm Jenny said...

There’s a flashback. I learned that in high school Spanish.

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:33 pm Teri Brown said...

NO! There is a cure for earworms. This works, I swear it. (and by the way, musical terrorism is when you walk up to someone and sing one of those songs and leaves)

What you do is hum the themesong to Gilligan Island until the other song is gone. Gilligan’s Island is innocuous enough that it will leave on it’s own.

Try it!:)

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:39 pm Marilyn K said...

That freakin’ Jeopardy theme song. I don’t even watch that show. Grrr.

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On February 16, 2008 at 11:51 pm robena grant said...

My sister sent me a CD of Rod Stewart, Thanks for the Memory. He does a duet with Elton John, Makin’ Whoopee. Barf. I haaaaaate that song! It’s been two weeks of fighting to get it out of my head. Ugh! It was like the last thing on my mind as I went to sleep and the first thing when I woke up, I finally broke free and now, after reading this, it’s baaaaaack!

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On February 17, 2008 at 12:51 am Karen said...

Oooh, I can think of several that are surefire winners in earworm wars (my office mates and I do this to each other a lot, just to be evil — the hazards of cubicle life).

–”It’s Not Unusual (To Be Loved By Anyone) – Tom Jones
–”Knock Three Times on the Ceiling” – Tony Orlando & Dawn
–Bach’s Minuet
–”Karma Chameleon” – Culture Club
–”Colonel Bogey March” from _Bridge Over the River Kwai_ (if you don’t know it from the title, it’s that whistling song… Ba Bum, ba ba ba, BAH BAH Bum… I heard that one morning on MPR just as I was getting out of the car, and it didn’t leave my head for days!)

I also get ones stuck in my head if I hear only part of a song (and miss the ending of it).

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On February 17, 2008 at 1:15 am Teble said...

Every time my husband gets a song stuck in his head (which happens a lot, since he’s a musician) I start singing “Everyone Knows It’s Wendy,” as loud as I can. Then he has a new earworm and I have a good laugh at his expense.

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On February 17, 2008 at 1:18 am Teble said...

Sorry, I think it’s supposed to be Windy, not Wendy. C’mon, sing along…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU8vOQNvd3c&NR=1

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On February 17, 2008 at 1:23 am Jenyfer Matthews said...

Any of the songs on your list (which I skimmed quickly so none could take root!) and just about anything else really because I can’t *not* hear the lyrics to songs so they just plant themselves in my brain and pop up at will.

Right now it’s “Wendy” – thanks a lot Teble.

For a long time when my kids were a little younger it was nearly always a Wiggles song like “Captain Feathersword”. Why oh why when there are so many other wonderful songs in the world does my brain cycle back to the Wiggles???

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On February 17, 2008 at 1:36 am Brianna said...

Via Con Me by Paolo Conte. Mostly it’s stuck in my head because I watched No Reservations, and when I heard the song, it made me think of French Kiss (Mmm, love me some Kevin Kline). I was a goner after that.

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On February 17, 2008 at 6:32 am LtL said...

Well, there’s that Lakme duet. Nice song, but . . .
Of course, just mentioning “It’s a small world” should be punishable by–something horrible. For me, it’s always something I can’t spell and don’t know the meaning of, like gynmnopedie or Aranjuez (which is what’s playing now. it’s the anti-Gilligan). Once got The Star Spangled Banner stuck in there. How’d you like to go three days standing up, with your hand over your heart. I finally, finally got to “Play Ball!” and knew that the pain was over.

I can’t honestly understand why anyone would object to having “Love Grows where my Rosemary Goes” on an endless loop. But, “Ain’t No Sunshine”–when it gets to the “I know I know I know” part.

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On February 17, 2008 at 7:34 am colognegrrl said...

I’m surprised that you had to look up the “earworm” term because it’s so common in German. And please, I rather run around for two days with Elton John’s “Your song” playing in my head (…it’s a little bit funny…) than – and this happens to me all the time – trying to remember something that my brain simply refuses to turn out, like the last name of the lady we met last year in France or the name of the director of “Purple Rose of Cairo”. (Woody Allen, I know it now. But after I talked about movies to my English class, this unsolved mystery wrecked the rest of my day until I could get hold of a computer and google him.)

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On February 17, 2008 at 8:02 am Rox said...

I’ve had a medley of Kermit the Frog songs stuck in my head, as my daughter’s synchronized skating team uses it for their competition program. There is an inherent problem with medleys–none of the songs in the medley are ever completed.

So lately I’ve been singing, “Movin’ right along, something something….”

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On February 17, 2008 at 8:03 am Door Cty Bound Cherry said...

I swear I’m plagued, lately every dang grocery store I’m in has that damn Bread tune going…”Baby Ima a want you, baby I need you. You the only thing…..” I try to block it out by thinking Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline…”

For the record, the fifteen yr. claims to have tunes in her head ALL the time, its a wonder any algebra gets in there…

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On February 17, 2008 at 8:54 am JulieB said...

I remember the first earworm I got. It was a jingle for Buster Brown shoes (and his little dog Tag!). I was probably four years old, and I truely feared it would never stop.
Now, I don’t remeber how it goes — managed to block it out finally.

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On February 17, 2008 at 10:14 am Bridget said...

One Million Lawyers by Tom Paxton

For the last week.

I even know how it got there. I was talking to a friend about a new business he’s starting (renting guitars) and I gave him a theme song. Thank you Republic Airlines for busting up the neck of my new guitar. I heard Tom Paxton play it the same day he wrote it (if I have the story right – my memory is now shot to hell)

The guitar song did not stick – One Million Lawyers did. In odd places I suddenly start to sing it. I’ll try the Gilligan Island song.

Bridget

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On February 17, 2008 at 10:50 am kathie said...

These aren’t exactly earworms, but sometimes the songs in my head give me a real clue to my mental state – when i start hearing “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why” – from an old Simon and Grafunkel song – or “I’m in a hurry to get things done” – from Alabama, it’s a mental clue to start paying attention to what’s going on around me.

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On February 17, 2008 at 12:08 pm Slave Driver said...

At work sometimes we get a gaggle of protestors. They can be loud but we can be louder, especially when we sing one of the following”

I’m Henry the Eighth I am (Cute and cuddly Herman’s Hermits!)

or “This is the Song that Never Ends” (Sherri Lewis, Lamchop’s Playhouse) which, of course, never ends, it just fades away……

It never makes the protestors go away, but it frustrates the hell out of them and it greatly amuses us.

West Side Story, oh yes! “I want to be in America, everything’s free in America, de da la dee in America…”

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On February 17, 2008 at 12:31 pm Chelle said...

Here’s mine:

This is the song that never ends
It just goes on and on my friends
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was
And they’ll continue singing it forever just because
This is the song that never ends…

Hell. I tell you. Just HELL. And yes, I hated my daughter’s kindergarten teacher.

ARGH.

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On February 17, 2008 at 1:24 pm Brooke said...

That goddamn song from the movie Waitress. The one about pie and strawberry love.
What makes it worse is that it’s about PIE, which I am not letting myself have so that I can lose a little belly before going to Maui next month.

I would write the lyrics down, only the fucking Chili’s jingle has now knocked it out of my head. Thank you very much.

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On February 17, 2008 at 1:32 pm LtL said...

Slave Driver–I’ve looked at your blog a couple of times and really enjoyed it. Can’t leave a comment there because I’m not on myspace. So I’ll say it here. Very Interrrestink!

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On February 17, 2008 at 2:09 pm Kieran said...

I know this sounds really weird, but ever since I was a little girl, if I get a song stuck in my head, I sing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” to make it go away.

Try it!!! :>)

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On February 17, 2008 at 2:11 pm Yvonne Lindsay said...

I’m so glad this phenonemon has a name! Ear worms, yes, an icky name but still a name. I’ve always found the antidote to be a healthy dose of singing Baa Baa Black Sheep in my head. Eventually it works and, thankfully, it doesn’t hang around…much :D

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On February 17, 2008 at 2:11 pm JulieT said...

For me, the kiss of death is when I shut off the car while there’s a song on the radio. Then my brain keeps finishing it for the rest of the day. Which goes with the research you posted. These days I wait in the drive with the song playing, until it’s over, and then shut the radio off.

The other thing you can do is chase out the current song with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which works, but then you have THAT stuck in your head, and I’m not sure it’s an improvement.

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On February 17, 2008 at 2:24 pm Lani said...

And I have the Rosemary song stuck in my head now, no matter what I do. Son of a Rich must pay.

Um… sorry. But I gave you a blog post, right? So. Yeah. Don’t kill me. :)

And of course, I finally got Rosemary out of my head and then I came here and it’s BACK. Damn. Somebody just shoot Rosemary, ‘kay?

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On February 17, 2008 at 3:21 pm Keris said...

Argh, now I’ve got Captain Feathersword. Thanks, Jenyfer!

I just read a bit of a great poem about this. It’s called More Than A Woman (ha!) and it’s by Billy Collins:

Ever since I woke up today / a song has been playing uncontrollably / in my head — a tape looping / over the spools of the brain / a rosary in the hands of a frenetic nun / mad fan belt of a tune.

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On February 17, 2008 at 3:48 pm Jeanna said...

When I worked at B. Dalton, book titles that were also song titles would infect me for days. The worst? Nicci French’s Killing Me Softly. Man, I can feel it trying to get into my head even now, LOL.

I hope the Gilligan’s Island theme antidote works!

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On February 17, 2008 at 3:54 pm Alice Audrey said...

Gah! Gah! Why did I read this? As soon as I saw the word “earworms” I knew what I was in for. I don’t want to be a tortured soul. Aaaaaaaa Y M C A da dada dadadada Y M C Aaaaaa.

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On February 17, 2008 at 4:23 pm Chrissy Deffendall said...

There’s a song the soldiers sing at the beginning and end of “Holiday Inn” starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. “We’ll follow the old man where ever he wants to go/As long as he wants to go/Opposite to the foe./Because we love him, we love him…”

For some reason, ever since Christmas this year (last year?) that one has been stuck on “Repeat” in my head. It comes and goes, but it is always lurking.

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On February 17, 2008 at 4:51 pm Naked Under my Clothes said...

“We Built This City on Rock and Roll” was the worst one. Something about the phrase “knee-deep in the hoop-la.” (At least I think that’s the lyric. Could be anything, really.)

Earworms really can drive me to the edge of sanity. I once had the above on the go between my ears for several weeks. During the day, I could keep it at bay by singing something else and then mentally focusing on my work.

But falling asleep was so hard. I finally figured out a system: I paid attention to it consciously, then mentally said “no” and forced myself into five or ten seconds of silence. Eventually I could get to sleep. And it did lose its hold.

But I have to be careful with ANY song, because I don’t want to go back there!

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On February 17, 2008 at 5:24 pm Reb said...

What I want to know is why the songs I like never turn into earworms. And whoever mentioned YMCA, aargh! And Killing Me Softly. Now they’re fighting for space in my brain.

Time to crawl back to work and see if that can distract me. Yeah, right.

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On February 17, 2008 at 5:57 pm Shari said...

Ok the theme song to the T.V. show “King of the Hill” it is instrumental but soooo catchy. Months now, it will be quiet; I will be spacey and the ghostly guitar sounds start to roll through my head. Da da da da da daa

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On February 17, 2008 at 6:31 pm Diane (TT) said...

Yes, we had this last week at the CB Bar & Grill – someone started in on the Little Goatherd from “Sound of Music” . So we were all yodeling in our heads.

And I instantly thought of the Song that Does Not End – a fine legacy for Shari Lewis…

Choir practice helped fix me last week, but I may now relapse.

I have learned the lyrics to many songs and hymns, so if I concentrate, I can usually get something else going that I don’t mind and might even turn off the soundtrack.

But it’s awfully weird when you just can’t figure out WHERE it came from, or why.

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On February 17, 2008 at 7:55 pm Lynn said...

The little blue men song … la, la, la la la la la . Let’s hear it for the smurfs!

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On February 17, 2008 at 8:23 pm orangehands said...

i can normally get rid of earworms in a few hours…have no clue how though.

my favorite is the Pink Panther theme song. not the words, just the music. and then i go out stalking and pretend to be him.

yeah, i’m nuts. the men with butterfly nets are coming soon.

this was fun Jenny. i think i’m going to annoy my housemates with one of them :)

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On February 17, 2008 at 8:56 pm Merry said...

Oh that’s just fine, Jenny. You’re responsible for innocent college students being tormented by OrangeHands. (Instead of OH tormenting them for some other reason.)

Can I tell my little story about how music is sometimes in your head for a reason? Nobody was fast enough with the gag, so here goes:

I was walking down a hallway in college once, and I passed the doorway of a psych professor named Smetana. “Hmmn,” thought I, “That name sounds familiar, but I know I’ve never taken any psych classes.” As I walked on, I became aware of a tune running through my head. It took me a few minutes to realize that the tune was The Moldau, which of course was written by a composer named Smetana.

I thought it was interesting that while the word-oriented left side of the brain couldn’t find the relevance of that name in my memory, the music-oriented right side of the brain was trying to supply the answer.

If you’re interested in Smetana at all (it’s remotely possible), here’s a You Tube video of a Czech orchestra playing the Moldau:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlLPLO90fSk

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On February 17, 2008 at 9:09 pm JulieB said...

It’s pretty ironic that I just realized I’ve had an earworm in my head for four days now.
Ubi Caritas, est vera, est vera
Deus ibi est
Deus ibi est
It’s a church hymn. I think it’s a self defense mode for all the stuff going on here on our campus this week.
http://www.spiritandsong.com/musicondemand/songs/16191
So far though I haven’t wanted to stop it.

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On February 17, 2008 at 9:49 pm Liz Bemis said...

The cure, (I’ve been told) to the ear-worm syndrome is to listen to the song all the way through from start to finish. I’m not sure that I buy this as a cure.

What I find more painful than a repetitive song everyone knows (like It’s a Small World or YMCA) running on an endless loop on my in-head radio is when an obscure song I don’t know the lyrics to– And can’t remember the name or artist of so I can’t look it up– plays endlessly, so that I’m stuck humming the one line I know, over and over, praying it will go away.

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On February 17, 2008 at 10:46 pm talpianna said...

I’ve gotten a weird selection of songs stuck in my head over the years, including Bad Moon Rising, The Happy Wanderer, It’s a Small World, Volare, Guantanamera, Gotta Get You Into My Life, and (from too many graduations) Land of Hope and Glory. I’ve also been stuck with songs from commercials like We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters, which actually started life as a bank commercial till Richard Carpenter heard it, got the composer to write more, and had a humongous hit with it; and Bob Seger’s Like a Rock from the Chevy truck ad. And a variety of Simon & Garfunkel tunes. I’m OLD, I tell you–OLD!

And Tonight from WEST SIDE STORY–not with the usual lyrics but the ones we used to sing on weekends at college:

Tonight, tonight, there’ll be no love tonight,
Tonight we’re going out with the girls….

And I have never recovered, and never will, from learning that just about every poem Emily Dickinson ever wrote can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas!

Merry, The Moldau was not written by Smetana–he ripped it off from the Mole who really wrote it!

JulieB—that’s better than the Dies Irae, which sometimes gets stuck in MY head.

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On February 17, 2008 at 10:56 pm LtL said...

Die Moldau is my favorite part of Ma Vlast. It’s everybody’s favorite part, I guess. Same with Dies Irae, which was evidently stuck in a lot of composers” heads.:)

And thanks for all the references to commercials. My head is now playing two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun. Now I’m thirsty and just dying to brush my teeth.

Because I could not stop for de-ath, he kindly stopped for me.
Yeah, sorta works.

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On February 17, 2008 at 11:40 pm Merry said...

Tal,
I believe the title is a misprint.
The “original” version was credited to Homer Smetana, and the title of the work was “The Mole, d’au!”

(D’au being the European version of D’oh)

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On February 18, 2008 at 12:37 am Karen said...

Oh, what also gets stuck in my head are the overused pieces of music that figure skaters use in their programs. The worst being “Tosca.”

Or maybe the worst is “The Montagues and Capulets” from Prokoviev’s R&J…

Both have a mental half life of at least six days. Which is 5 days, 23 hours, and 55 minutes too long.

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On February 18, 2008 at 4:52 am CrankyOtter said...

Oh crimini, I knew better to read this. I hope my usual cure of singing “Make a little Birdhouse in your Soul” will still work. It only really works on modern music though. Even if I usually sing it as “Build a little Birdhouse”. After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts.

I usually get one of about 4 variations of choral “Alleluias” stuck in my head. For some reason when I’m gowning up at work I feel compelled to sing them. Every day for a weeks. Fortunately for my colleagues, it’s hard to hear over the air handling fans. One is the opening nun sequence, 2nd sop, for Sound of Music. Another one that branches out from Alleluia a bit contains “congregavit nos in unum Christi amor” which will tweak at least one of you, but it’s your own fault. At least with that one I have the memory of singing it acapella with my HS chorus in the Pantheon in Rome.

Oh! And an apocryphal verse from that campfire favorite from church camp. “Give me gas in my Ford, keep me trucking for the Lord, Give me gas in my Ford, I pray, Hallelujah”. Oh again. I just figured out why that one gets stuck. It’s those damn alleluias. And me an agnostic.

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On February 18, 2008 at 6:57 am francois said...

The worst are the really short ones – “whoomp, there it is, whoomp, there it is, whoomp, there it is” etc.

I’m growing to quite like “The Gas man cometh” because it actually is a circular song. The gas man on Monday makes work for the carpenter on Tuesday who makes work for the electrician on Wednesday…until finally the painter paints over the gas tap and the gas man comes again on the following Monday.

“Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do.”

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On February 18, 2008 at 8:44 am LtL said...

“I bought it on ebay.” or “White and nerdy.” The kids love those, and know all the words, BUT I DON’T. However, they both have bits that make very damaging earworms.

I’m really impressed with the things that you all do outside of reading. You sing, you get advanced degrees, you “gown up.” Surgeon? Runway model?

Off to find a grammar site. I have questions, many questions, or at least many question marks.

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On February 18, 2008 at 11:03 am Carla said...

Got earworms? “I Like Beer.” I’ll probably be hearing it when I wake up tomorrow. Ack.

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On February 18, 2008 at 1:01 pm AgTigress said...

One of the things that I find intriguing about Jenny’s original piece is that I have never heard of any of the songs she mentions, or that are mentioned in the ‘top ten’ list, with just one, single exception (The lion sleeps tonight). This is quite a good illustration of the non-universality of popular culture. I do know a few of the other songs mentioned in other people’s comments.

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On February 18, 2008 at 1:06 pm MJ said...

Our microwave oven beeps three times when cooking’s done–and those three beeps sound in my head as “King of kings,” leaving me humming the hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah for hours after.

I can usually link my earworms to my life–like driving someone to the airport and realizing I’m humming “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

And my brain has default songs for specific moods. “Go, Marquette” fight song or “Mission: Impossible” mean “Let’s get to work.” When life is flowing and happy, “Away in a Manger” or “Streets of Laredo” appear. When I finish a big work project, the theme song from “Mannix” or “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky take over my brain.

This all makes me wonder–what earworms plagued people in medieval times? In cave-man days?

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On February 18, 2008 at 1:42 pm Slave Driver said...

Hmmm, Gregorian Chant earworms… Cave men would, of course, sing the “Uga chaka, uga uga, uga Chaka ” from Blue Suede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”

(I pre-apologize to anyone who now has that rolling in their mellon)

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On February 18, 2008 at 2:14 pm Yvonne Lindsay said...

Hey, I listen to Gregorian Chant when I’m writing — helps keep me focussed :D — but, Slave Driver, thank you, no, I really thank you for leaving me with Uga Chaka rolling in my melon today!

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On February 18, 2008 at 3:20 pm J said...

I can’t think of any of the recent earworms I’ve had, but when I was in high school, I had a song ready for when one happened. It was from a musical, and I had by then memorized it well enough that I could make it to the end and get out of the loop through that. It was catchy enough on its own that it had no trouble supplanting whatever else had gotten caught in my brain. I can easily see how this method wouldn’t work as well for a song that you didn’t know as well. I wonder if part of the reason this worked was that the song was from a musical, and that meant that it had a logical progression, and where you are at the end of the is different from the beginning, so it is easier for the brain to recognize the end when it comes.

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On February 18, 2008 at 5:15 pm Abee said...

Yeah, one of my lecturers threatened to expel me for getting hooked on a feeling in his head :)

On the other note: I always sing ‘Fever’ to myself to get rid of earworms, I think it works because I know all the words so I can finish it

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On February 18, 2008 at 8:06 pm Heqit said...

Does this make earworms the aural equivalent of the word “yawn” — so contagious that you don’t even have to hear it, just seeing it is enough to trigger it?

um, sorry to all of you who are now yawning. As I am.

I’m surprised that “Guantanamera” didn’t make it onto that Top 10 list. That song will get stuck in my head for DAYS. Although the earworm I had earlier today was “I Love Paris” — the Ella Fitzgerald version. The words morph nicely; you can change them right into “why oh why do I have this damn song stuck in my head” with no trouble. Doesn’t scan, of course, but that’s the least of my problems.

As for medieval earworms, MJ, well…”Greensleeves” is Renaissance, I think, but “Veni Veni Emmanuel” is thought to be from either the 8th or the 12th century, and it’s earwormy as hell.

I can get them from books, too. When I worked in a bookstore Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees always had me singing “O Holy Night.” My default earworm is “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” though. I’ll start humming it out of the blue at any time of year. I have no idea why.

Does anyone else get bits of poetry stuck in their head the same way? I’ll get a line going around and around and won’t be able to get it out without re-reading the whole poem, sometimes twice. Most recently it was “Let us roll all our strength and all/Our sweetness up into one ball” from To His Coy Mistress. People at work look at you really strangely if you wander around muttering that.

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On February 18, 2008 at 8:08 pm Jenny said...

For some reason, I’ve had “Knock Three Times” stuck in my head for over a day now. And nobody even mentioned it. It’s quite peppy for a “the stalker who lives above you” song.

Another possible cure: Pandora.com. Go find a similar song and see if that cancels it out. I got Elvis singing “Just Can’t Help Believing” to get rid of “Knock Three Times.”

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On February 18, 2008 at 9:06 pm Jen said...

I love coffee, I love tea. I love the java jive and it loves me. Coffee and tea, java and me….

Been cycling for days now.

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On February 18, 2008 at 9:37 pm RfP said...

After a graduation ceremony, I had Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance in my head for weeks.

Uh oh, here we go again. Dummm da-da-da dahhh da, dummm da-da-da dahhh.

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On February 18, 2008 at 10:26 pm Rachel said...

This isn’t an earworm exactly, but it made me think of Agnes and the flamingos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUb0evFZbNM&eurl

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On February 18, 2008 at 10:27 pm G and T said...

Oddly enough, one of my staff members is quite proud of his new Cheech and Chong ringtone that features Cheech singing about Mexican-Americans. Just a phrase or two. Started on Thursday and I can’t stop hearing it.
Coincidently, blasting Pandora now to eradicate…

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On February 18, 2008 at 10:51 pm JulieB said...

Heqit asked about poetry. I’ve memorized (and forgotten) a few poems. But when they go south, it’s really hard to get them out of your head.
i.e.
Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symetry?
Be he alive or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread…

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On February 19, 2008 at 9:46 am McB said...

It’s so much worse, though, when you get just a snatch of a song, a mere couple of words, circling around in your brain and just can’t quite remember the rest of the words or even the song title.

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On February 19, 2008 at 10:22 am Melissa Blue said...

This is the song that doesn’t end.
It just goes on and on my friends.
People started singing not knowing what it was
And they’ll continue singing it FOREVER
Just because this is the song that doesn’t end….

*Insert Evil Laughter*

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On February 19, 2008 at 11:26 am Norma said...

Any Barney song….”Mr. Sun”, “I Love You”, etc. etc. Pick your poison.

Also, I’m almost 50 years old, and I’d never heard the word ‘ouroboro’ until I read it in a book last week, and here it is again. Weird how that happens.

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On February 19, 2008 at 12:48 pm Joy said...

My absolute worst earworm is the Florida State chant…no words to remember to be able to get it out of your head! When you’re the opposing team, it’ll take at least a week to get it out of your head.

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On February 19, 2008 at 1:24 pm Office Wench Cherry said...

My brain tends to torture me by giving me three or four words of a song, maybe if I’m lucky a couple of lines, and makes me figure out what song it is. And it’s not easy to Google lyrics, it’s things like “take me home”. Could be John Denver, could be Guns ‘n Roses. I don’t always hear the lyrics in the voice of the original – or at least most famous – singer either.

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On February 19, 2008 at 2:44 pm Andi said...

How did I not see that gawdawful “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now, gotta go gotta go gotta go” jingle up there! I want to put knitting needles through my ears… to stop the sound from coming in and for purging it from my brain! “And I don’t gotta go right now”

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On February 19, 2008 at 8:34 pm Liz said...

Every ABBA song ever made. They were practically an earworm-generating machine. AURGH!

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On February 19, 2008 at 9:02 pm talpianna said...

Norma: http://www.sacred-texts.com/ring/two/index.htm

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On February 20, 2008 at 2:27 am Renee Somebody said...

talpianna: not just the Yellow Rose of Texas, also Gilligan’s Island. Which is great for lines like, “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me”
And I get some song stuck in my head on a daily basis, and usually turn to something even more obnoxious to oust it. Barbie Girl by Aqua, anyone?

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On February 20, 2008 at 9:58 am Laura said...

since Valentine’s Day:
“Cupid, draw back your bow
& let your arrow flow
Straight to my lover’s heart for me”

I’ll have to try Gilligan’s Theme to see if it will drive it out of my head.

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On February 20, 2008 at 12:16 pm Melissa said...

Barbie Girl by Aqua, anyone?
I forgot about that song, which means I’m going to be singing it for the rest of the day. Gah.

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On February 20, 2008 at 2:03 pm btuda said...

Oh, we are truly a sad, evil, sick group. Who else would suffer from earworms and then read dozens of posts detailing what other’s earworms are?

Here are my top 5 that get stuck on loop with frightening frequency:

Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees
The Gilligan’s Island theme song
Chain of Fools by Aretha Franklin
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg by the Temptations (I think)
Roxanne by The Police

I think they are all rolling around together in my head now. Argh!

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On February 20, 2008 at 3:32 pm CrankyOtter said...

Oh, 1 more! It’s bad! My boss’s boss has a name that fits the meter of “Gary Indiana” when sung on a decending melody from what I think is the show “Oklahoma”. It’s from some musical. But “Gary Indiana” is the only part of the lyrics I know. So I get singing the boss’s name in my head to that tune and it drives me nuts.

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On February 20, 2008 at 4:10 pm Slave Driver said...

“Gary, Indiana” is from “The Music Man” and in the movie is sung by a lisping Ron Howard.

Ugh, how am I going to get that out of my head now? I know, wine! And lots of it! :)

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On February 20, 2008 at 7:29 pm Nicole said...

“Jenny, I got your number….867-5309, 867-5309…” Wait until you wake up in the middle of the night with that running throught your head.

Try humming the Pink Panther song when you’ve got an earworm.
Dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da- duuuum, da-da-da dum!

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On February 20, 2008 at 7:30 pm Jenny said...

Trust me, Nicole, I’ve heard that one. Also Jenifer Juniper. And Cotton Jenny. And . . . d

Still, I’m grateful I’m not Roxanne. I love the name, but the song would make me bonkers. (Sorry, Rox.)

You know, it’s like we’re all sitting in the same room, poking each other with sticks.

Must put up a new blog post.

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On February 20, 2008 at 7:59 pm Kieran said...

This is all very interesting, but I wish I had never heard of the word earworms. I put it in the same category as earwax, both vile words that I can’t think about or say aloud without shuddering. I can’t wait for the next post so I never have to think about the word earworms again!

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On February 20, 2008 at 8:17 pm Rox said...

Thanks, Jenny, I’m glad you’re not Roxanne, either. That would be too confusing. As much as I complain about the song, if that’s the worst thing that ever happens to me in my life, I’ll die a very happy woman. As long as no one plays that song at my funeral.

When the kids were little my husband used to find himself singing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round…” while at work.

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On February 20, 2008 at 8:56 pm Jenny said...

I used to teach preschool, so “The Wheels on the Bus” was one of the ones I thought of, too. But I was too kind to post it.

I do love the name Roxanne. Must use it for a heroine some day.

The new post it up. Go over there. It’s a kindler, gentler game.

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On February 22, 2008 at 2:17 pm Bennett said...

Mark Twain has a wonderful short story, Punch Brothers Punch – http://www.online-literature.com/twain/3268/ about the problem. I’m not yet sure whether to be comforted by the fact that earworms are not a new phenomenon.

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On February 22, 2008 at 2:38 pm CrankyOtter said...

“My name is Cheech and I am a school bus driver
And I always get you right to school on time
If you live near or far or here or there
or down the lawn most anywhere
or even if the wind is blowing or
and maybe it’s even snowing
or raining cats and dogs outside
and you think maybe I won’t come
and you won’t have to go to school at all.
Think again!
My name is Cheech and I am a school bud driver
and I always know exactly where I am”

It’s a great replacement for bus wheels.

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On February 22, 2008 at 5:58 pm Diane said...

Thanks Jenny – I now have a cruel and unusual writing exercise to inflict on my writers’ group today. Earworms!

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On February 25, 2008 at 3:05 am Shannon said...

One more, just because no one else has mentioned it, and I have to know if I’m the only one. This one almost did me in one night. To the point of tossing, pillow-throwing, and near tears. Because I could. Not. Sleep. I should mention that I was an insomniac at the time, travelling the slow and painful road to recovery. It was a set-back. I loathed Mike Meyers that night.

And for Laura, this won’t make Cupid go away, but at least it makes it a lot more fun. I love Blackpool.

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On March 2, 2008 at 12:51 pm Karen said...

Jenny, if “Knock Three Times” got stuck in your head, that was my fault… I did mention it (it’s a day or so above your post), so maybe you briefly skimmed it, and that was enough to do it.

(Sitting here catching up on older conversations because I am trapped … there’s a cat sleeping on my lap, and I don’t want to disturb him, and since he appears not to be disturbed by the fact that there’s a lap desk on top of him and a laptop computer on top of that, I expect that nothing is going to disturb him).

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On March 19, 2008 at 1:27 pm Kelly said...

I once had the chorus line (Lightning’s striking again!) from Lou Christie’s song “Lightnin’ Strikes” – for TWO WHOLE WEEKS! That was 17 years ago – and I will never forget it.

http://www.just-oldies.com/1966/lightning_strikes.htm

“Lightning’s striking again and again and again and again”

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