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A mnemonic (pronounced [nəˈmɑnɪk] in American English, [nəˈmɒnɪk] in British English) is a memory aid. Mnemonics are often verbal, something such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something. They are often used to remember lists. Mnemonics rely not only on repetition to remember facts, but also on associations between easy-to-remember constructs and lists of data, based on the principle that the human mind much more easily remembers data attached to spatial, personal or otherwise meaningful information than that occurring in meaningless sequences. The sequences must make sense though. If a random mnemonic is made up, it is not necessarily a memory aid.
The word mnemonic shares etymology with Mnemosyne, the name of the titan who personified Memory in Greek mythology. The first known reference to mnemonics is the method of loci described in Cicero's De Oratore.
The major assumption is that there are two sorts of memory: the "natural" memory and the "artificial" memory. The former is inborn, and is the one that everyone uses every day. The artificial memory is one that is trained through learning and practicing a variety of mnemonic techniques. The latter can be used to perform feats of memory that are quite extraordinary, impossible to carry out using the natural memory alone.
A mnemonic technique is one of many memory aids that is used to create associations among facts that make it easier to remember these facts. Rhyming in poetry has been used since ancient times as a memory aid. For recalling items in a fixed sequence peg lists are especially useful. This method can be applied to unordered lists of things, as well, and can be used to ensure that no item is left out. The method of loci is similar in that ordered lists are the target, but it relies on placing vivid emotive images onto images of places which one has previously visited repeatedly in a particular order. The major system, or phonetic number system can be used to replace the memory of numbers with the memory of sequences of words or images.
All of these can be used with the method of substitute words, which replaces an abstract or not easily visualized word or concept with one that is associated with an emotive or striking word. For example, in memorizing the periodic table, boron (which has no image associated with it that one can recall) might be associated with the substitute word "bore." Everyone has a friend who is a bore, and he would be visualized in this connection. Silicon becomes "silly con," and so on.
These techniques appear to make use of the power of the visual cortex to somehow make the memories more readily fixed in one's mind, and last longer than ordinary memories. For example, a number can be remembered as a picture. This makes it easier to retrieve it from memory. Mnemonic techniques should be used in conjunction with active recall to actually be beneficial. For example, it is not enough to look at a mind map; one needs to actively reconstruct it in one's memory. These systems take advantage of the memory's ability to store more information by organizing it into "chunks". Concentration and repetition are still required, though not as much.
Number rhyme system
This is an example of a "peg list". It is useful for remembering ordered lists, especially for people with strong auditory learning styles. The following numbered list is static. Note the rhyme of the digit and the word (one/bun, two/glue, and so on). The items you wish to remember should be associated with each word. A similar system utilizing a combination of this and the preceding "abjad" system can easily yield numbers through 100 or higher.
and so on.
Egg and spear or number shape system
This is another peg system, much like the number-rhyme system but more suitable for those with visual learning styles (a one looks like a candle; a two looks like a swan, and so on).
- Candle, spear
- A Candle next to an Egg
Visual mnemonics are very popular in medicine as well as other fields. In this technique, an image portrays characters or objects whose name sounds like the item that has to be memorized. This object then interacts with other similarly portrayed objects that in turn represent associated information.
Examples of simple first letter mnemonics
One common mnemonic device for remembering lists consists of an easily remembered word, phrase, or rhyme whose first letters or are associated with the list items. The idea lends itself well to memorizing hard-to-break passwords as well.
Science and technology
Biology, medicine, and anatomy
Medical mnemonics are quite common, see . Some of them are less politically correct than others, and some are profane (presumably because their shock value makes them easier to remember). The list below doesn't censor, but in some cases does provide "clean" alternatives.
An example of a visual mnemonic for the drug "hydralazine" could be represented as "lazy hydra" that is on strike holding a sign "NO more work". "NO" in the above case symbolizes Nitrous oxide, which is related to the drug's mechanism of action. For examples of this technique, see .
- (The letters stand for Olfactory nerve, Optic nerve, Occulomotor nerve, Trochlear nerve, Trigeminal nerve, Abducent nerve, Facial nerve, Auditory nerve, Glossopharyngeal nerve, Vagus nerve, Accessory nerve, and Hypoglossal nerve.)
In the ones marked with a "@", the accessory nerve is referred to by its alternate name "Spinal accessory nerve". In the ones marked with "#" the Auditory nerve is referred to by its alternate nane "Vestibulocochlear nerve".
- "Ooh, Ooh, Ooh To Touch And Feel Very Good Velvet. Such Heaven!" @
- "On Old Olympus' Towering Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops" @
- "On Old Olympus' Tiny Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops", or "On Old Olympus' Towering Top A Finely Vested German Viewed A Hawk" (with variations; some say "terraced tops", "towering top(s)" or "topmost top", and "viewed some hops" is sometimes rendered as "vaulted a hedge").
Another to help remember the types of information these nerves carry (sensory, motor, or both) is thus: Some Say Marry Money, But My Brother Says Big Brains Matter More.
On Old Olympus' Tiny Tops A Friendly Viking Grew Vines and Hops
External carotid artery branches
- (The letters stand for superior thyroid artery, ascending pharyngeal artery, lingual artery, facial artery, occipital artery, posterior auricular artery, superficial temporal artery, and maxillary artery)
- "Some Anatomists Like Fucking, Others Prefer S & M"
Biological groupings in taxonomy
- "Kings Play Chess On Fine Green Satin"
- "Knights Play Chess On Fat Glass Stools"
- "Kirsten Puts Cats Over Family Generally Speaking"
- "King Phillip Came Over From Germany Soaked"
- "Kids Playing Carelessly On Freeways Get Splattered"
- Or, if you were feeling in a certain way, "Kinky People Can Often Find Good Sex
- "Kids Playing Carelessly On Freeways Get Splattered"
Many biology students use the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to assist in remembering the characteristics of DNA:
We love DNA,
Made of nucleotides,
A phosphate, sugar and a base,
Bonded down one side.
Adenine and Thymine,
Make a lovely pair,
Guanine without Cytosine,
Would be rather bare.
Other mnemonic systems
- Art of Memory
- Method of loci
- Mnemonic link system
- Mnemonic verses
- Link System
- Goroawase System
- Major system
- Dominic system
- Giordano Memorization System
Arbitrariness of mnemonics
A curious characteristic of many memory systems is that mnemonics work despite being (or possibly because of being) illogical or arbitrary. "Roy" is a legitimate first name, but there is no actual surname. "Biv" and of course the middle initial "G" is arbitrary. Why is "Roy G. Biv" easy to remember in order to memorise the order that the seven colours of the rainbow appear? ROYGBIV can also be expressed as the almost meaningless phrase "Roy Great Britain the Fourth" again referencing "Roy" but using the GB national code for Great Britain and the Roman numerals for 4, viz: IV. The sentence "Richard of York gave battle in vain" is commonly used in the UK. Any two of the three months ending in -ember would fit just as euphoniously as September and November in "Thirty days hath...", yet most people can remember the rhyme correctly for a lifetime after having heard it once, and are never troubled by doubts as to which two of the -ember months have thirty days. A bizarre arbitrary association may stick in the mind better than a logical one.
One reason for the effectiveness of seemingly arbitrary mnemonics is the grouping of information provided by the mnemonic. Just as US phone numbers group 10 digits into three groups, the name "Roy G. Biv" groups seven colors into two short names and an initial. Various studies (most notably The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two) have shown that the human brain is capable of remembering only a limited number of arbitrary items in working memory; grouping these items into chunks permits the brain to hold more of them in memory.
Mnemonics in foreign language acquisition
Mnemonics can be helpful in studying a foreign language, for example by adapting a foreign word that is hard to remember to a pre-existent phrase in the learner's native language - using folk etymology. Linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann has proposed many Anglo-Hebraic lexical mnemonics for English-speaking students of Israeli Hebrew. For example, in trying to assist the learner to remember ohel, the Hebrew word for tent, Zuckermann proposes the memorable sentence "Oh hell, there's a raccoon in my tent". The memorable sentence "There's a fork in Ma’s leg" may help the learner remember that the Hebrew word for fork is mazleg, and so forth. The notable linguist Michel Thomas taught students to remember that estar is the Spanish word for to be by using the phrase "to be a star, of course".
History of mnemonics
See the Art of Memory.
See the Method of Loci.
- Atkinson, R.C. and Raugh, M.R. (1975) An application of the mnemonic keyword method to the acquisition of a Russian vocabulary, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 104(2):126-33.
- Memory Improvement techniques - Free online tutorials and forums, vedic maths guides, leaving cert and GCSE/A level memory tips too. All FREE!.
- VTrain's Memory Aids - Useful tips on mnemonic techniques.
- Flocabulary Rhyming mnemonics over Hip-Hop music to help students remember vocabulary words
- AidToMemory.com, mnemonics collection and forum
- Use mnemonics to learn English
- Human Memory
- Homepage of the World Memory Championships
- Mick Curtis memory techniques A practical memory course.
- Google Answers: How to Have a Good Memory
- Memory Joggers Using Mnemonics to teach children Math
- The Memory Page: Tutorials and tips on how to improve your memory.
- Science mnemonics From Science Jokes
- Mnemonic Moronimizer, Stupidity Reduction Device, patent pending, at http://pagesofmystery.com/
- Tools for Improving Your Memory from Mind Tools
- Method of loci about Memory Palaces
- The Effect of the Integrated Keyword Method on Vocabulary Retention and Motivation by Dr. Joern Hauptmann
- Medical Mnemonics.com: World's Database of Medical Mnemonics - "A free online searchable database of medical mnemonics to help students of health-related professions remember the important details."
- Memory Improvement and Learning Information
- Memory Master
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