Tag Archives: Mnemonic

Looking for a good Bill of Rights Mnemonic

2 Aug

Last week, the lectures at Chautauqua focused on the Supreme Court. The roster of speakers included Linda Greenhouse, Annette Gordon-Reed, Jeffrey Rosen, Akhil Reed Amar, and Theodore B. Olson. You can see some of the talks here.

With all the talk of the Bill of Rights, it occurred to me that someone must have come up with a good mnemonic for them. But I have been disappointed by most of what I have found. Here is one of the better ones:

If you know of one that you like, please let me know.

There is a well developed literature of mnemonics for the medical profession. I am surprised that I am unable to find a similar body of work for the law.

Mnemonic trick for converting between Fahrenheit and Celsius

9 Jan

From the always interesting Benny Lewis:

Dewey Decimal System Mnemonic

1 Aug

Here is a first letter mnemonic for the potentially useful task of learning the Dewey Decimal System:

Generally, philosophical religionists see language scientifically to favor literary history.

Category Catalog Number Mnemonic
General Works 0 Generally
Philosophy and psychology 100 philosophical
religion 200 religionists
Social Science 300 see
Language 400 language
Science 500 scientifically
Technology 600 to
Fine arts 700 favor
Literature 800 literary
History 900 history

Adapted from Evans (2007)

Quadratic formula mnemonic

17 Sep


Going through some of my notes I rediscovered this mnemonic for the quadratic formula:

From square of b, take 4ac;
Square root extract, and b subtract;
Divide by 2a; you’ve x, hooray!

I am not sure of the origins of this mnemonic. The earliest version I could find was from J. S. Mackay in 1894, but he says the mnemonic was given to him by a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society.

Here’s another mnemonic for the quadratic formula:




And let’s not forget the Quadratic Formula Rap:


The number peg memory system

28 Aug

In the peg method, sometimes called the minor peg system, an individual memorizes a fixed set of ordered mnemonic cues. It can be used to learn ordered and unordered lists, such as a set of historical events or your weekly shopping. The technique relies on the use of vivid visual images.

The most widely used peg system is the number peg method. This system invented by John Sambrook in 1889 and a simplified version is described in most books on memory improvement. The peg word system is easy to learn and can supplement other mnemonic devices that we will be learning, such as the Dominic system. The first step is to create a numbered list of ten mnemonics pegs. Each peg word should rhymes with its respective number making the list easier to learn. Here is a suggested list, but you should modify if you can think of words that are more memorable to you. For example if the word “bricks” is easier for you to visualize than the word “sticks,” by all means, use it as your peg word for number six.

Number Peg Word
1               Gun
2               Shoe
3               Tree
4               Door
5               Hive
6               Sticks
7              Heaven
8              Gate
9             Vine
10           Hen

Once you have committed the list to memory, you are now ready to try to learn a list. What you will do is to make a vivid visual association with each item.

So let’s try to learn a grocery list. Suppose you want to purchase the following ten items; 1. oatmeal, 2. apples, 3. bananas, 4. spaghetti, 5. peanut butter, 6. carrots, 7. mushrooms, 8. maple syrup, 9. baked beans, 10. soy milk. Here is a chart suggesting visual associations between the items and the peg words.


Peg Word






Gun shooting out oatmeal (instead of bullets)




Shoe crushing apples under its heel




A tree with bananas hanging on it




Spaghetti forcing itself through a door



peanut butter

Bee hive made of peanut butter




A bundle of carrots wrapped up like sticks




Giant mushrooms growing in heaven



Maple syrup

A gate holding back a flood of maple syrup



Baked Beans

Cans of baked beans growing on a vine



Soy milk

A hen laying a carton of soy milk

If some of these associations seem bizarre, so much the better. The more bizarre, the easier to remember, a phenomenon called the bizarreness effect. It is important to try to create vivid visual images for each association. If, in addition you can link the image to something you already know the easier it will be to remember. For example, when I think of a gate holding back a flood of maple syrup, I am reminded of the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919

When one reuses the same pegs over and over again there is always some danger that memorizing one list might interfere with the learning of a later list. However, research suggests that the number peg system can used over and over again.

Here is a video showing a version of the number peg system:

Ed Cooke on memrise

10 Dec

Here is a Guardian video interview with  memory grand master and Mermise founder Ed Cooke:

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Nelson Dellis demonstrates the link method of list learning

4 Nov

In this video, memory athlete Nelson Dellis demonstrates the link method of list learning. The method depends upon making bizarre mental images and linking the items on the list together in a sequential story.

The link technique is a staple of most memory improvement books and a nice clear example can be found in Harry Lorayne’s How to Develop a Super Power Memory.

My favorite mnemonic

20 Jul

Mnemonics are useful memory tools. My favorite mnemonic is:

“Said George III with a smile, 1760 yards in a mile.”

This mnemonic encodes two pieces of information, the number of yards in a mile (1760) and the year that George III took the throne (also 1760). Knowing how  many yards in a mile helps me to remember how many feet in a mile. Just multiply 1760 by 3 to get 5280.

I admit that no one has ever asked me “just when did George III ascend to the throne?” But when it happens, I am ready.


Thoughts on memory books

23 Jun

There are, in general, two types of memory books: scientific studies of memory or self improvement books.

One of my hopes for this blog is to bridge the gap between these two types of literature.

This means that I take seriously many popular books on memory improvement. Writers such as Harry Lorayne, Domonic O’Brien, and Tony Buzan are not scientists but they have made real contributions to memory improvement and should not be ignored. When Harry Lorayne  wrote that “all knowledge and learning is based on connecting new things to things you already know”  he was writing from his own experience and from the tradition of memory self-improvement. Yet, his observation is in keeping with the findings of modern memory science.  More over, Lorayne and others have demonstrated remarkable feats of memory that demand explanation and are worthy of scientific investigation. For example, Domonic O’Brien, once memorized 316 random digits in five minutes. His ability to memorize cards is so good that he has been banned from many casinos.

My only criticism of these popular books is their almost exclusive reliance on mnemonics. Now, mnemonics are a powerful technique that I use all the time, and I will certainly feature them in this blog. However, there are other techniques that are less well known, particularly spaced repetition learning that help us remember  many things that are not easily handled by mnemonics. You can try out spaced repetition learning at Memrise.

Expert memory

22 Jun

We have a box at the Chautauqua Post Office.


And here is our Post Office Box


We live just outside of Cleveland and there is a ten month gap between our visits to the Institution. so remembering information over that gap is a problem. How do you remember the number of a Post Office box that you only need to know during the summer?

I am able to remember the box number 1239 using the D.O.M.O.N.I.C mnemonic system invented by Dominic O’Brien. This system assigns letters to each of the numbers zero to nine. Then every pair of numbers is remembered as the initials of some memorable person. For example, the system assigns the letter “C” to the number 3 you might remember the number combination 33 as Chelsea Clinton.

In the case of my P.O. box I use Annie Bessant (12) and Carrie Nation (39). The people you choose should be memorable to you, and everyone’s list will be different.

I use a similar to mnemonic to remember the box’s combination, but I think it might be unwise to share it on the Internet.

However, the most interesting memory story I have from my visit to the Post Office is that the mail clerk, who hasn’t seen me for ten months and handles thousands of pieces of mail for thousands of customers, remembered my last name.

I believe that this is a case of expert memory, people have better memory for areas in which they have deep experience. For example, cocktail waitresses have better memory for drink orders than matched controls. Actors have superior memory for learning dialog. Chess experts are better at remembering chess positions and mail clerks may have better memory for the names of patrons.

When you develop and expertise in an area you build a deep knowledge of that subject or activity. In turn, your deep knowledge makes its easier for you to learn new material; as your knowledge grows you have more opportunities to associate new information to your expanding knowledge base.

This suggests that the more you know the easier it is to learn new material. This observation has important consequences for memory improvement.

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