Jewish World Review Nov. 11, 2003 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

David Grimes

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Songs that won't go away | Warning: The following column should not be read by anyone who doesn't want the theme song from "Gilligan's Island" constantly replayed in his or her head for the remainder of the day. Whoops! Too late!

"Earworm" is the word a university professor has coined to describe those irritating songs or jingles that get stuck in your head and drive you so crazy that you'd rather leap off a high building than listen to your brain replay "A Lion Sleeps Tonight" one more time. James Kellaris, a University of Cincinnati marketing professor, has done an intensive study of this subject, leading one to wonder why he is not now locked in a padded cell gulping fistfuls of Prozac.

According to Kellaris, earworms differ from individual to individual, though "Who Let the Dogs Out" and the baby-back ribs jingle from Chili's restaurant are two of the more universal offenders.

The professor also found that people who suffer from neuroses are more likely to be plagued by earworms, though I tend to think it's more likely the other way around. Some of Professor Kellaris' other findings: Women report more irritation and frustration as a result of earworms.

People who are constantly exposed to music are more susceptible to "stuck songs" than others.

The Meow Mix jingle can cause cancer in laboratory rats.

I am making that last finding up (possibly) but it is clear that stuck songs pose a serious health problem, up to and including the possibility of damaging your hand because you punched your car radio while it was playing the Piņa Colada song. I personally stopped listening to music about 30 years ago because I was afraid that the constant replaying in my head of "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love in My Tummy" was going to result in a tragic incident involving a sniper rifle and a tall building. So my neuroses are now fueled mainly by internal replayings of annoying commercial jingles, of which there are seemingly an unlimited supply.

My childhood was damaged beyond repair by the voice in my head singing: "N-E-S-T-L-E-S. Nestles makes the very best . CHOCK-lut." Even if you never smoked cigarettes, there had to be adverse health consequences for people who couldn't get the jingle "Winston tastes good like a (whap whap) cigarette should" out of their heads.

The poor academic performance of our children may be due less to the time they spend playing computer games and more to the fact that the inside of their skulls never stop replaying the Oscar Meyer weiner song.

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("Oh, I'd love to be an Oscar Meyer weiner. That is what I'd truly love to be-e-e. Because if I were an Oscar Meyer weiner, I'd contain pig snouts and a lot of other unpleasant things that you really don't want to know about." OK, so my memory of jingle lyrics is less than perfect.)

Speaking of artery-clogging foods, let us not forget (as if we could) the Armour hot dog jingle. ("What kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs? Fat kids, skinny kids, kids whose parents know about as much about nutrition as a boat anchor.")

So, what is the cure for earworms? A lobotomy might work. Otherwise, I'm afraid you're just going to have to spend all of your waking moments listening to the "Jeopardy" theme song pounding in your head.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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