Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This post will make you (feel) smarter

The other day I was driving in the car and my kids were chatting in the back seat about the solar system (as kids do). My 9-yr-old daughter piped up: “I can name the planets in order!” And then she rattled them off. “Is that right, Mommy?”

I hesitated a moment as I struggled to remember...which came first, Neptune or Uranus? Mostly, however, I wanted to know how she knew.

“Easy,” she answered. “They taught us a trick in school to help us remember. My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas."

Ah, yes. A mnemonic device.

When I was in college I studied religion. We had to memorize all the books of the Bible, in order. While I've forgotten the tricks I used to remember them all (there were several), I will never, ever, even on my deathbed at age 97, lose the ability to rattle off the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.



A professor taught us that word as a mnemonic device. It means nothing, but for some reason I've never forgotten it. By the way, the 'A' is just thrown in there so the word is pronounceable. It doesn't matter. It still works. I realize the Pentateuch may be obvious to many, but for the unchurched amongst us...not so much. We need GELNAD.

Mnemonic devices work because they use imagery, rhyme or words to trigger memory. I can also name all 50 states, in alphabetical order, because I learned them in a song when I was nine (Fifty Nifty United States). I'm a bit in love with mnemonic devices because they make me feel smarter than I am. Especially since having children siphoned a good 20 points off my IQ.

Here are some of my favorites. Memorize a few. You'll feel instantly smarter.

Roman Numerals
I Value Xylophones Like Cows Dig Milk
I, V, X, L, C, D, M = 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000

Biological Classifications
King Phillip Could Only Find Green Socks
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

Bones in the skull
Old People From Texas Eat Spiders
occipital, parietal, frontal, temporal, ethnoid, sphenoid

The fates of the six wives of Henry VIII
Divorced, Beheaded, Died
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived 

Great, now that I know how they died, what are their names?
Can't Anne Just Accept Catastrophe Calmly?
Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Catherine, Catherine
(That one is mine, you're welcome.)

How to spell Rhythm
Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move

I wish I'd remembered this when my kids were younger. In the fog that accompanies new parenthood, I could barely remember my own name. Why didn't I just use mnemonics?

For instance, this would have been helpful:

How to get out of the garage
Keep It In YouR Pants, Bud
Key in ignition, release parking break

What to do in the morning
Will U Please Bake a Dozen Cookies? Now.
Wake up, pee, brush, drink coffee, nap

What to make for dinner

Too late for me. My kids are older now and I've graduated to making eggs and toast for dinner. But feel free to use these if you are a new mother.

Oh, and while whomever invented mnemonics was a true giver, the person who determined how it would be spelled was clearly a sadist.

What about you? Do you use mnemonics?

P.S. I've installed Disqus. I'm trusting that all the comments that *poof* disappeared will magically reappear at some point. Right?!

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