The Wide World of Mnemonics

Image courtesy of stockimages/

Image courtesy of stockimages/

Is it spelled rhythym or rhythm? Let’s see – Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move. So, it’s the latter. This is also a good example of how using mnemonics can help you in situations where your memory fails. Derived from the word mnĕmonikos, Ancient Greek for “of memory, or relating to memory” and from the word mnĕmŏn, meaning “mindful,” mnemonics are devised learning strategies or techniques that aid in information retention. How? They help to translate information into a form that is easier for your brain to remember.

Mnemonics are used all over, from the children’s song for learning the ABCs to weather prediction by seafarers (“Red sky at night – sailor’s delight; Red sky in the morning – sailor take warning”). Although most of the techniques seem unrelated to the parcel of information that needs to be memorized, people use them for recalling just about everything – telephone numbers, chemistry equations, PIN numbers for banking, wiring in electronics – you name it. To see just how diverse they are, take a look at the short list below.

Colors in the order they appear in every rainbow: “Roy G Biv” – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

North American Great Lakes: “HOMES” – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior

Biological classification: “King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti” – Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

Order of the planets in our solar system: “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos”- Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune

Mathematics and solving an equation by order of operations: “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” – Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract

Music: “Every Good Boy Does Fine” – the notes E,G, B, D, and F represented by the lines on the treble clef stave. In addition, their spaces spell “FACE”

The English language is full of inconsistencies and incongruence, (ex. “dough” and “tough” are not pronounced the same although they are only a letter off). Utilizing mnemonics to navigate through tricky spellings is another application of these handy tools, such as is it “ie” or “ei” in a word: “I before E, except after C. And weird is just weird.” Or when trying to decide whether to spell dessert versus desert – we prefer two desserts (two ‘s’) to eat to only one desert.

Mnemonics may be especially helpful in learning a foreign language. Users may play on link words to transpose difficult foreign words into words that the speaker already knows. For example, you might remember the Hebrew word for tent, “ohel” by thinking “Oh hell – there’s a snake in my tent.” Learners can also create mental images to make associations for words that might ordinarily get confused. For instance, for the Spanish word ‘cuchara,’ meaning spoon, one might envision the round letters ‘c’ and ‘a’ like the bowl of a spoon. Whereas ‘cuchillo,’ the double ‘ll’ looks like two straight knives.

Mnemonics is so widespread, there are entire structures devised for very specific subjects or industries. Piphilology is a system assigned solely to creating mnemonics for pi. There is even a database dedicated to medical mnemonics. Dennis Congos from the University of Central Florida outlines “9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory” with strategies for several subject areas. Also, NASA provides “The Mnemonicizer” that allows you to generate your own mnemonics. Having fun so far? Check out more mnemonics from Berlitz Private Express. In addition, there’s a Mnemonic Dictionary that lists some of the top searched words and provides popular word lists.

Although the effectiveness of mnemonic use varies per person, research has found them to be extremely helpful overall in information recall, particularly for the very old or the very young. And if you are having trouble remembering how to spell ‘mnemonic’ for your Internet search in finding even more memory aids, simply remember, “Memory Needs Every Method of Nurturing Its Capacity.”

Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype


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