MNEMONIC [ni-MON-ik]: something designed to assist with a memory


The issue of memory loss or failure is very much a topic of concern in today’s world.   As people live longer, well into the “elderly” years, it more and more common for them to experience some forms of memory loss.   For most people it is a normal part of the aging process.  For others it is the onset of memory-related disease, dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

Those of us who are experiencing this struggle with memory have developed little tricks to remind us of the words we can’t call to mind or the appointments we have scheduled, or the names of people we are going to be with.   I wrote the other day about prosopagnosia, the inability to remember faces, one of the many facets of this memory loss phenomenon.  (Is it possible that I’m too concerned with this issue?)  

But today I’m focusing upon the use of mnemonics , the use of clever devices to jog one’s memory.    It is certainly one of the most unusual words in our language, beginning with two consonants that don’t flow well together.  The best way to pronounce it is to forget the “m” at the beginning.  It comes from the Greek language, where its meaning is the same:  aiding in memory.

Perhaps the most familiar  mnemonic is the string tied around our finger to remind us of something we have to do.   The problem I always faced with this device was that I could remember that there was something I needed to do, but I couldn’t remember what it was.  In the days before cell phones, it was a greater problem than it is today.

But there are other mnemonic devices which we adopt, such as words which have letters corresponding to the items we need to remember.   An example might be a word like BEAT.  It helps me remember that I need to pick up bread, eggs, apples and tomatoes on the way home. Word Mnemonics are the favorite memory joggers for students of sciences, law, the arts, and medicine.   For instance,if it is important for a math student who is  having difficulty to remember the order of math operations, (she) can simply remember this:

The order of operations for math is Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract = Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.*

There are rhymes which we memorize to help us remember spelling, such as

I before e except after c
or when sounding like a
in neighbor and weigh

It amazes me that we remember the poem, but can’t remember the spelling, but that’s the way the mind tricks us at times.

The invention of Post-It notes has to be one of the best examples of mnemonics around.    It is hard to remember (!) what we did before these little yellow pieces of paper were handy for remembering all kinds of things.   I find them in my pockets, stuck to my wallet, on the visor of the car, or on my pillow when going to bed.

Memory lapses are common at all ages, depending upon the quantity of items required to be committed to memory.   I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a medical student and to have to memorize all the Latin names of medicines.  I have always been impressed with our friend, Chris, who is theoretical mathematician.  He is totally blind.  Therefore, everything he does has to be from memory.   And I can’t even remember what time my doctor’s appointment is!


Graphic Credit: ICT4us


Next Post » »

Speak Your Mind