Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November…
If you’ve ever recited this childhood rhyme to remember which of our months have thirty days, you’ve used a mnemonic device.
What’s A Mnemonic Device?
No, it’s not the latest gadget, but a cool memory trick to help us remember facts—a large number of facts, lists, or some other type of bulk information. Basic mnemonic devices (or simply mnemonics) use words, sentences, or even images that our minds can associate with the information we’d like to remember. Most mnemonics are rhymes, acronyms, or catchy phrases that are easier to recall than the information they represent. The word is derived from the Ancient Greek word mnēmonikos, meaning “of memory,” or “relating to memory.”
How Do You Pronounce “Mnemonic”?
For a tool to make memory easier, the word itself is a tricky one! The first M is silent. “Mnemonic” is pronounced as three syllables, “ne-MON-ik.”
Why Do Mnemonics Work?
There is still a lot of research being done about why mnemonics work, but we do know a couple of things. First, they’re a way to encode information, and encoding makes it easier for our brains to recall information. This is particularly true with mnemonics that rhyme. When we hear and memorize a rhyme, that is a form of acoustic encoding that helps us commit the rhyme to memory through hearing. The brain is able to break the words of the rhyme down into phonemes (you may recognize the root word phone, which relates to phonics), which is how we decode spoken words in order to understand their meanings.
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two.
“Chunking” is another reason why mnemonics make it easier for us to recall information. Research shows that human short-term memory is limited to a small number of items at once. Mnemonic chunks make it easier to hold information in short-term memory. Phone numbers and social security numbers are an example of chunking—the digits are grouped into chunks that are easier to remember.
Popular Mnemonic Devices
To remember how to spell words like “receive,” try this famous mnemonic:
I before E, except after C
Or when sounding like A
In neighbor and weigh.
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Potatoes.
This mnemonic is designed to help you remember the planets in order from the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto (though astronomers are still arguing about Pluto’s planetary status). The new mnemonic for planets without Pluto is: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles.
Roy G. Biv
This acronym fashioned to look like a name helps us remember the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
For grammar gurus, this is a must-use acronym that helps us remember all seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
There are lots of famous mnemonics out there to help us remember all kinds of things, but you can create your own mnemonics, too. Make up a simple rhyme or create your own acronym to make it easier to remember birthdays, tasks for work or school, grocery lists, and other bits of important information.
Do you use a mnemonic device to help you remember something? Share it with us in the comments below.
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.