Sticky expressions

Yesterday, a Zippy with the “found mantra” Vampire Manga Dog condo — an expression that lends itself to obsessive repetition. Such sticky expressions are a recurrent theme in Zippy, and they’re related to another sort of sticky expression, the “verbal earworm”, an expression that you can’t get out of your head. In my experience, verbal earworms often originate in found mantras.

Previous found mantras on Zippy:

12/27/08, nuclear Obama-lama ding dong (link)

9/30/09, post-prandial sneeze disorder (link); in this strip, Griffith introduces the term phrase repetition disorder for the phenomenon

2/20/10, the geographical names Grundy Gulch and Zortman (link); in any number of Zippy strips, Griffith and his characters savor trade names, personal names, and geographical names, but without repeating the expressions

3/3/10, remote control bathtub jet ski (link); in this strip, Griffith introduces the term onomatomania for the phenomenon

3/5/10, Norelco (link)

2/24/12, Nerf Vortex Nitron Blaster (link)

These expressions are sticky for different reasons: their phonological properties (like the alliteration and assonance in Grundy Gulch), the absurdity of the referent (remote control bathtub jet ski), and their prosody (they make tetrameter lines, roughly trochaic). On the prosody:

Obama-lama-ding-dong: (W) SW SW S S (extrametrical W, two short feet)

remote control bathtub jet ski: WS WS SW SW (two iambs, then two trochees)

Nerf Vortex Nitron Blaster: S SW SW SW (short first foot)

Vampire Manga Dog condo: SW SW S SW (short third foot)

Some years ago I read a humor piece (in the New Yorker, I think) about inventing your own mantra. One suggestion that stuck with me is Chichicastenango (Wikipedia: Chichicastenango, also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is a town in the El Quiché department of Guatemala, known for its traditional K’iche’ Maya culture). Trochaic tetrameter again: SW SW S S (two short feet). This has become a verbal earworm for me; it comes into my head unbidden.

Similarly with Wissahickon mica schist, which I got from Benita Bendon Campbell over fifty years ago. Trochaic tetrameter again: SW SW SW S (strong last foot). On the referent:

The Wissahickon Formation is a mapped bedrock unit in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In Maryland, the term “Wissahickon” is no longer used and has since been divided into several units. It is named for the Wissahickon gorge in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

The Wissahickon is described as a pelitic schist and gneiss with interlayers of quartzite. Color is highly variable as is the mineralogy. A general description for the unit is described as a silver to brown garnet mica-schist.

… Wissahickon schist is quarried as a building stone and is used primarily as a decorative stone rather than a weight bearing stone. There are numerous old buildings in the Philadelphia area that are constructed almost entirely of this rock. (link)

(Bonnie came across the expression when she discovered that her Philadelphia bank building was constructed of Wissahickon mica schist.)

Then from G. R. Kelly on Facebook:

I still find my head repeating “Wigstore switchbox”, which I heard on Law & Order once. WIGSTORE SWITCHBOX!

(Two trochees.)

The label verbal earworm is my attempt to give a name to the phenomenon. It has been used at least once before:

The sentiments are also mirrored by his gun-ho [typo? earworm?] producer (Emily Mortimer), who believes America is great because “we are a country that keeps saying that we can do better.”

This line easily gets stuck in the brain, a verbal earworm, and comes crashing back to the forefront of one’s memory when listening to August 4, 1964, composer Steven Stucky and librettist Gene Scheer’s “concert drama” about a pivotal, tragic day in the LBJ administration. (link)

Now, your classic earworm is musical. From Wikipedia:

An earworm is a piece of music that sticks in one’s mind so that one seems to hear it, even when it is not being played. Other phrases used to describe this include musical imagery repetition and involuntary musical imagery. The phenomenon is common in normal life and so may be distinguished from brain damage that results in palinacousis. The word earworm is a calque from the German Ohrwurm.

So classic earworms have music, often with words. The phenomenon I’m looking at here is like that, but with words only.



2 Responses to “Sticky expressions”

  1. Earworm therapy | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] earworms (among other things), see “Sticky expressions” of 3/31/13. And on earworm therapy, see my 4/2/13 posting on the […]

  2. stavinchain Says:

    John Jamjamian, purveyor of fine Oriental rugs, whose shop was reached by taking the Delmar [DEL.mar] streetcar/Delmar car.

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