When you were in school, you probably learned the colors of the spectrum
by using Roy. G. Biv (red, orange, violet, blue, indigo and violet), the names
of the Great Lakes by using HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior).
Such devices are mnemonic devices and are helpful in remembering certain bits
These devices can be useful even in spelling. I always told my kids that
conscience was simply con + science and that separate
has a rat in it. Two classic mnemonics are A Red Indian Thought He Might Eat
Turkey In Church (of course to spell arithmetic) and George Eliot's Oldest
Girl Rode A Pony Home Yesterday (for geography).
This material is the lead-in to
an intriguing book by Dr. Ron L. Evans entitled
Good Boy Deserves Fudge, the old classic of the notes on the scale. Dr.
Evans has collected mnemonics in 43 categories from astronomy to zoology.
Obviously not all these rememberance devices apply to everyone. In fact,
many of them are subject sensitive. For example, suppose you are a science
student trying to learn the chemical symbols—especially those that seem
to be off track. You see lead and it says Pb. You don't know
where that came from so you use the mnemonic lead is subject to point
break—viola, there you have it. Pb as the symbol for lead. If you
still are going crazy over why they would tag lead with Pb, you might want to
know that the Latin word for lead is plumbum and thus the Pb. As an aside I,
as a former Latin teacher, suggest you take a course in Latin if you ever get
the chance. Your vocabulary will grow by leaps and bounds.
Then there are some mnemonics that would appeal to a select few and would not
be of much value (other than that it is interesing to learn these things even
if we don't use them) to others. For example Mr and Mrs Lamb will help
anyone remember the nine felonies in common law: murder, robbery, rape,
manslaughter, sodomy, larceny, arson, mayhem, and burglary.
And then there are some that are just plain fun. For example the squaw on
the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the two squaws on the other two hides
for hypotenuse (squared) = base (squared) + height (squared). Most of us will
probably never need to know this one: sections of the intestinal track in order,
but if we should or we just want to have some fun we now know that we can list
them by remembering this little mnemonic—Dow Jones industrial averages
closing stock report: duodenum, jejunum, ileum, appendix, colon, sigmoid
colon, and rectum.
The book has at least three positive attributes: going through the book is most
enjoyable, some of the mnemonics are actually ones we can use in our profession
or regular lives, and the book points the way for us to make our own devices so
we can remember people, places or things more readily.
If you know a mnemonic that you have used or one you used in school that is not
listed in this column, send it to me at
Let's spread the fun and knowledge.