The meaning of “der Ohrwurm”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: February 24, 2022

Hello everyone,ein Ohrwurm

and welcome to our German Word of the Day:

der Ohrwurm


The first translation for Ohrwurm that came to my mind while writing this text was “Despacito”. Yes.
Or to be more precise “Deees  paaa cito nanananannanan ito…. ”
You know that song, I’m sure.
Other possible translations for Ohrwurm (at least to me) would be “Yellow Submarine”, “Barbie Girl”, “Like a virgin” and many many many many more and the music industry has a lot of smart people spending their days to churn out new ones.

So have you figured out the real English translation yet? No? Well no need to feel bad, because English does not have a word for this.  

The German Ohrwurm consists of 2 parts… das Ohr means the ear and der Wurm means the worm. Ohrwurm is the name of a little insect – in English it is called Earwig. This little fellow has a bad reputation. It crawls into peoples ears and once inside it is kind of hard to get it out again… and this is exactly what these songs do to you… you hear them three or four times on the radio or on your MP3-Player and then you hear them another 100.000 times in your head when you are trying to sleep. An Ohrwurm is a song that just won’t leave your mind. Some dictionaries give as a translation the term ‘catchy tune’. That is correct for positive uses of Ohrwurm. So in a meeting of Universal Music-officials someone might say:

  • Wow, die Single von Drake ist echt ein Ohrwurm. Lass uns 10 ähnliche Songs machen.
  • Wow, the new single of Drake is a hell of a catchy tune. Let’s do 10 similar songs.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But ‘catchy tune’ doesn’t really work for the negative. If you can’t fall asleep for hours because you have “ella” echoing inside your head, the second of the following phrases will express better how you feel.

  • Man, I have a hell of a catchy tune inside my head.
  • Man, I just can’t get that fu…ing song out of my head.

In these situations in German you say:

  • Mann, ich habe einen verdammten Ohrwurm.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

An Ohrwurm is something you can get very quickly. So if someone is humming a tune that you just managed to forget you can say:

  • Toll, danke, jetzt hab ich einen Ohrwurm!
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

But Ohrwurm as for itself is not a negative word. Suppose you have heard something rare on the radio that you really liked and you keep thinking of it. But unfortunately you don’t know the name. So when you finally decide to swallow your pride and go to your local record dealer determined to make a a singing attempt in German you could say this:

  • Hallo, ich habe einen ganz großen Ohrwurm von einem Song aber ich weiß nicht wie er heißt.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

So this is Ohrwurm. It is a really practical word and people do use it in everyday conversation whenever there is this certain melody that just won’t go away.

What? Oh … you want to do the grammar. Ok ok…

The plural of der Ohrwurm is die Ohrwürmer and does it get an n in case 3 plural… of course it does.

So this was our Word of the Day, I hope you enjoyed it and just in case you have forgotten by now… des-pa-cito :)

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