Thursday, December 31, 2009


We just passed the winter solstice, and these dark and claustrophobic days have turned us into bibliomanic lexiconophiles. I'd like to continue our vocabulary obsessions by sharing a word I recently learned: onomatomania, which refers to the involuntary recollection of a phrase.

"Two eggs a dozen", for example, recently lodged in my brain like a watermelon in a toilet.

On a related note (bear with me here--this is going to get graphic and disgusting--but I do have a point and I will try to edit out the bad words), a buddy of mine suffered a temporary spell of impotence triggered by involuntary imagery. Every time he was about to, er, "matriculate", he envisioned a, er, "pencil" (more specifically, the head of his uncircumcised "pencil" with the hood pulled back), being sliced vertically by a razor blade. Apparently, that killed the mood.

Is there a word that generalizes these mental ticks, referring not only to onatomania and compulsive images, but also to songs stuck in your head and olfactory hallucinations?

Speaking of which, why are fake smells, of all these phenomenon, regulated to bad weirdness like epilepsy and stroke? Other mental ticks, like phantom phone rings, are so bizarrely common that they're written off to, "Dude ... workin' too hard?!", but phantom smells are just unheard of outside of serious problems. I mean, I've had some weird shit get stuck in my head, like I've recently been hung up on this observation: have you noticed, or is it just me, that some cars (when viewed from behind) lean to one side--but always to the left!?!? ... but I've never had a smell stuck in my head. Heck, I can barely even conjure up the memory of a scent, though I can recall all sorts of stupid trivia, for example, just off the top of head I can tell you that back in the mid-1970s scientists were stumped by the challenge of making fake banana taste.

But then there's "two eggs a dozen": stuck in my head like a watermelon in a toilet.

What gives?

(p.s., Thank you, once again, to for stoking my bibliomania! The image, by the way, is from YouTube, but I'm not putting up a link here since this post is kind of gross and the video was made by a couple of kids.)


  1. Q: Is there a word that generalizes these mental ticks, referring not only to onatomania and compulsive images, but also to songs stuck in your head and olfactory hallucinations?

    A: crazy

    Just kidding. I don't know if we've ever discussed it, but I've got a bit of OCD, which is exactly what this post made me think of (again and again and again!) I've pretty much got it under control but it takes the form of counting, needing to repeat actions so that they're symmetrical and....onomatomania, sometimes with whole phrases just like your eggs.

    At one point in my life it could literally drive me to tears and was mildly debilitating.

    I've overcome it mostly by simply deciding to ignore the compulsions, but it occasionally crops back up again. Pain in the ass. You can't imagine how relieved I was to learn (many years ago) that I wasn't alone with this. I used to feel ashamed and had serious concerns about my mental health. Heavy shit for a kid to handle.

    Anyway, sometimes I catch it creeping up on me after I've obsessed over seeing an even number of capitalized words on a page for a minute or so then I just have to sigh or giggle and move along.

    Weird, eh?

  2. Your "A: crazy" nearly made me snort a mouthful of diet coke outta my nose! I actually thought you were going to give the answer. That "mental tic" phrase is something I lifted from an Andrew Bird song--but I don't feel bad because I strongly suspect that he lifted the phrase "fake palindromes" from a game that me and some friends made up.

    I didn't realize you were a counter! That actually runs in my family, but it missed me. Any onomatomania that I've experienced has probably been a sort of fake version--not so much compulsion as enjoying the sound of a phrase rolling through my head.

    A couple years ago, though, I was surprised to learn of hypergraphia--which sounded instantly familiar; my personal experiences inspired The Ballad of the Singing Loo # 2"

  3. Hypergraphia....I think I've got that too! And Diet Coke? You sneer at light beer but drink Diet Coke? The horror! ;)

  4. I just heard of Onomatomania tonight and I'm thinking: Finally! Something the describes this compulsive thing I say... I don't know how it started. When I was about 9 years old I started saying it, but it has taken on a whole new form over the years. I feel embarrassed every time I meet someone and then have to explain this thing. My family knows about it of course, but they don't understand what it's like. It's become a joke to them.

    My thing that I say is: "Tomorrow's My Birthday!"

    I'm totally serious! It gets embarrassing when the people around me when I say it, believe it and go as far as baking me a cake or buying me a gift.

    So years and years like this and I'm 30 now... I finally figured out what the heck is wrong with me!

    It has changed over time though, because now I find myself also saying: "Tomorrow's My Birthday, Not Yours!" And I also catch myself saying: "Yesterday Was My Birthday."

    So this is an actual thing and I'm so glad that I'm not the only one out there who has this. It's usually triggered by anxiety or if I'm thinking something I don't want to think, it comes out to like block or stop that thought.

    Someone told me it was a coping method, but I knew it was more than that because it's automatic. It just happens to come out of my mouth and sometimes repeatedly.


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