Week of February 5, 2023

Truly Ear-Relevant Facts


The term “earworm” is about 1,000 years old in English, but originally referred to the earwig, which people inaccurately believed crawled into human ears. Later the term applied to a moth larvae that damaged ears of corn and other crops, but in the late 1950s Germans began describing catchy “ohrvurm” tunes instead of agricultural pests, and the term has been popular in English since the 1980s.


To “keep an ear to the ground” means to be keenly scouting for something. This practice is often associated with listening for approaching horses, but in fact has been used for centuries by cultures all around the world to detect all variety of animals, people and things.


Earrings go way back. They weren’t just worn by pirates and Shakespeare, but Otzi the Iceman, the oldest known mummy ever discovered, who was sporting them about 5,300 years ago.


Some of the most famous ears in all of Hollywood (and the 22nd century), those of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, were donated for permanent exhibit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum by the actor’s family.


Between the time hearing aids were invented in the 17th Century and electrified in the 20th, they were essentially just “ear trumpets,” designed to channel sound into the ear instead of amplifying it electrically. These large devices were sometimes made to be worn within hats, hairstyles, collars, beards, and in the case of royalty, inside of thrones.


Imagine if you could hear a friend calling to you from 2.5 miles away or more. An elephant could, but they don’t just listen with those massive ears. Packed with blood vessels, elephant ears also manage body heat and can cool by fanning, as well as asserting position when elephants spread their ears to show dominance. Notably, elephants also have very sensitive feet, and can talk with “seismic communication,” hearing other elephant noises and triangulating their location through ground vibrations.


You don’t just hear the world thanks to your ears, you balance your way through it. The inner ear contains the fluid-filled semicircular canals, and as this fluid moves around, hair-like sensors send signals to the brain which help with orienting and balancing the body.