A mnemonic device is simply a technique that helps us learn and retain information through simpler ways than the original format. There are several different types of techniques, but they all have the same end goal – to help us remember!
The word mnemonic (pronounced new-mon-ick) comes from the Ancient Greek word for memory, and was used a lot back then to remember everything from prose and poems, to directions and geography – of course they didn’t have pencils back then, let alone Sat Nav or computers!
If you can think back to your school days, you’ll recall being inundated with so much information that you needed to develop ways to remember it all, and everyone had their own techniques, but some were more commonly used than others.
Anyone who was schooled in England will remember the rhyme ‘I before E, except after C’; although this was an easy way to remember the grammar rule, it is no longer taught as there are almost 21 times the number of words that are exceptions to those that conform to it (see our previous article about rule breaking here).
Another popular rhyming mnemonic is ‘Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’, which reminds us that red sky in the evening usually means it should be fine the next day – but in the UK that’s no guarantee!
The most common mnemonic devices are those that help us to remember the order of things by using the first letter of the subjects in an easy-to-recall phrase. For instance, the order of planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto is simpler to remember by using these acronyms: My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets, or My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas – of course, these all predate Pluto being publicly humiliated and demoted to a star, but it’s easy enough to drop the ‘P’.
There are also acronym mnemonics to remember how to spell tricky words like RHYTHM: Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move, or tricks to remember the correct spelling of ACCOMMODATION: Two cots need two mattresses in any accommodation, and PRINCIPAL v PRINCIPLE: Your principal is your pal.
My favourite mnemonic that doesn’t come in handy as much as I’d like is a nautical related one that (not surprisingly) involves alcoholic beverages: Is there any red port left? In that one little sentence we can now easily remember that in boating terminology port is to the left, and red lights signify port – ahoy me hearties!
If mnemonics are your thing, and you want to learn more, check out a brilliant book called ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ which investigates how world memory champions can memorise two decks of cards in competition, as well as looking at other memory techniques – once you’ve read it you’ll never need to write a shopping list again!
We all have ways of remembering - what are your favourite mnemonics?