How often have you felt the need to say "Oh my god! There's an axe in my head"? Perhaps not often enough seeing how much fun it can be--at least saying it. You could convincingly argue that the actuality represented by the phrase is a bit less than appealing.
Everyone who's been around for a while has had the opportunity to take "Oh my god, there's an axe in my head" and translate into their favourite language in order to amaze their friends and total strangers. I first ran into it sometime in mid-1995, probably around the time I was a regular on EFnet's #scotland and rubbing shoulders with about fifteen variations on the nick "RobRoy." For a channel that hinted at a rather parochial subject, we turned out to be unexpectedly ecumenical.
We thought we were so original with our Polish and Greek and Afrikaans. We were sorely mistaken. Five years later (before my time, granted) we were being just as original on E2. I doubt that there's a social site or listserv on which nobody ever brought up the Axe. Some lists were more accurate, some less. All of them were fun to make. Even emoticons did not escape getting axed: k:-(
The origin of the phrase is, according to the man who spread it, the product of a scribe whose name has been lost in time. It appeared in caricatures of engineering professors in the Iron Warrior, the department's student newspaper at the University of Waterloo. From there it became a topic of discussion among buddies and then headed to alt.gothic, where its morbid appeal was not lost, with a request for more translations. The person responsible for this went by the handle of Yohaun. The exact date is uncertain but it was probably late 1993. This almost redeems the Canadian college-paper-to-internet crowd for Space Moose. Almost.
The Axe, though not entirely a creation of the internet, is one of the very earliest examples of an on-line viral meme. Through the efforts of people other than myself, a record of its spread has been created and preserved. Here's the first "authoritative" list from July 1994:
English: Oh my god! There's an axe in my head.
Bosnian: boje moj! sjekira mi je u glavi.
French: Mon dieu! Il y a une hache dans ma tete.
Visigothic: Meina guth, Ikgastaldan aqizi-wunds meina haubida
Swedish: Herrejävlar! Jag har en yxa i huvudet!
Dutch: O, mijn God! Er zit een bijl in mijn hoofd.
Latin: Meus Deus! Ibi est securis in meus capitalis.
German: Oh mein Gott, da ist eine Axt in meinem Kopf!
Japanese: ahh, kamisama! atama ni ono ga aru
Norwegian: Herre Gud! Jeg har en øks i hodet!
Spanish: !Dios mio! !Hay una hacha que esta en mi cabesa!
Hungarian: Jaj Istenem, de fejsze van a fejemben!!
By December the list had just about tripled in size. All of it was in plain ol' ASCII because those were the days before terminals (web browsers? ya right!) could read much else. Thus it came to be that it was not until 2001 that Middle Egyptian was posted in its native hieroglyphics when Yohaun obligingly provided one of the axe chroniclers with a picture of the original postcard (postmarked Columbus, Ohio, 1994-10-04). The same card also showed the phrase in Cyrillic. Technology has come a long way since 1994. In these progressive, Unicode days everyone can have an axe in his head in his native script, though he'd still need a pronunciation guide for the rest. As long as he doesn't think he's being original. A list that's about as canonical as can be resides at http://www.yamara.com/axe/, where you can also find a link to a forum dedicated to nothing but axes in heads.
Here's to a meme that was both clever, unintended, and deservedly long-lived (/b/, take note). After all, it is very important that you be able to convey critical information about your medical condition while travelling in a foreign land or time. You never know when you'll end up with an axe in your head.