Charm of mnemonics

Praha

There are so many pieces of information we need to know, there are so many pieces of information we need to remember. None of us is able to remember everything and sometimes we may get into trouble when forgetting something important. But there are techniques coming to our aid and probably all of you met and used the art of mnemonics which makes it easier for our brain to remember and recall the important pieces of information. There are many mnemonic devices and you can find plenty of them on the Internet but I would like to mention just a few practical uses which have stuck in my (Czech) mind.

From my school years I do not remember the vitamins which are water-soluble but I will always remember those ones which are fat-soluble. They are A,D,E,K. Firstly, I like the word ADEK which they form though it has no meaning at all. Well, it resembles the word ‘zadek’ which means buttocks and which may make it sound seemingly familiar. But if you switch the letters, you will get the word DEKA which means a blanket. Fat-soluble vitamins are playful ones.

Writing telephone numbers in sections divided by gaps is a helpful mnemonic device and in many countries the numbers are written in this way. In the Czech Republic, telephone numbers usually have 9 digits so if you divide such a number into three groups of three, it is much easier to remember it. You know, although my husband has had the same mobile phone number for ages, I have not been able to remember it. It is high time to do something about it and I could start practising it this way…

Who would not know the Morse code? We were learning it as a list of words starting with the particular letter and containing the proper short and long syllables. Many of the words sounded archaic but it made them even easier to remember. And guess what – I remember the record of just those letters I have associated with the particular words like A-kát (locust); Erb (coat of arms); Jas-mín bí-lý (white jasmine) etc.

Many countries have emergency telephone numbers which can be called free of charge in emergency situations. In the Czech Republic the number 112 which is the European emergency number may be called but there are three traditional emergency numbers in operation as well: 158 – Police, 155 – Ambulance, 150 – Fire brigade. They form an integrated system nowadays and it does not matter which one you choose any more but it always made me feel silly that I was not able to remember which one belongs to which department. Until I read a mnemonic device: the last digit of 158 is 8 which resembles handcuffs – hence police, the last digit of 155 is 5 which resembles a wheelchair – hence ambulance, and finally 150 whose last digit is 0 which resembles a lake (pond), hence fire brigade…

The last example I am going to give you brings me back to the photo where you can see the Czech national flag. Do you know since what time I have remembered faultlessly that the white stripe belongs up and the red stripe down? Since I heard that you put an egg on a brick wall and not the other way around.

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19 Comments

  1. Soosie

    I am smiling very broadly at how to remember which stripe is on top of the Czech national flag. Once learnt, I don't think that one could escape. And yes, I used mnenomics while at school (but cannot today remember what for) and need to give them some serious thought again. Megathanks…

  2. Anyes - Far Away In The Sunshine

    Interesting the tricks one can play to engage our own memory, and once you find one that works you are set. I love the example at the end of your post Petra. Now I will also remember about your flag and its white and red stripes 😉

  3. Marcie

    I chuckled about your egg on a brick wall mnemonic…:-)! It's been awhile since I've thought of these memory devices. I'll now be considering how I use them with more attention now. Thank-you for this wise and witty post!

  4. Zena (Healingmoments)

    This is such an interesting and clever post, I think I´ll never forget the colors of the the Czech national flag. While reading it, I was remembering some of the "tricks" I´ve learnt when I was much younger and suddenly, when I finished my reading I realized that I also learnt how to remember our flag when I was only a kid. I haven´t thought about this for ages but my father told me when I was only six that we have two red stripes and only one yellow stripe because we had spilled much blood to achieve a little amount of gold. I have never forgot this explanation. I don´t know where this can come from, but not doubt it is related to our history as a country and now, thinking of it again I can hear a warning about avarice…

  5. Honey

    i read this and remembered my visit to the czech republic! as for memory games…well…i have notepads, ledgers, and sticky notes to help me! i am afraid i have forgotten most of the games! uh oh!

  6. Jennifer Richardson

    This brings a rush of memories flooding
    about my grandma, who was one of the smartest women I've known
    and very keen in her mind well into her nineties.
    She used to practice and practice mnemonics,
    always working to keep her memory fit.
    It was fun to have a little window into her world
    and these sayings and musings
    bring it all back fresh and happy:)
    Thank you,
    Jennifer

  7. Ginnie

    HAHAHA! I love this, Petra. Now I am trying to wrack my brain to come up with some of my own that are surely lurking in the cobwebs. Just the other day I read someone misusing the "laying" vs. "lying" verb which is still fresh in my head: if you forget whether someone is "laying" in the street vs. "lying," just ask yourself if the person is laying an egg and if not, then he's probably lying. HA!
    I bet we could come up with a long list midst the group of us. Great fun, Petra!

  8. Sue

    I have a terrible time remembering names and my husband always tries to encourage me to use memory 'tricks' (mnemonic devices) to do a better job at remembering them. And, of course, as a teacher mnemonic devices often played an important role in education. Interesting how your post made me think more consciously today about the various memory ticks or aids we use and how important that role can be.

  9. Catherine

    The egg on the wall, now that is brilliant! I realise about my own brain that I need pictures to help me remember things……….and you have such a wonderful mind Petra!!!

  10. Elena Caravela

    Remembering the dozens of passwords is a another great example of how mnemonics can save us! I remember making up all sorts of mnemonics at homework time to help my kids study for tests. I'd forgotten how useful this practice can be. Thanks Petra!

  11. Barbara

    Petra, I remember years and years of music lessons at the piano. My first mnemonic encounters. EGBDF – notes on the sheet music which were lines – Every Good Boy Deserves Favor – and the spaces between the lines were FACE – the mnemonic obvious there.
    I like the egg on the brick wall to remember the flag layout. Now I'll always remember that.

  12. I can see that the egg put on the brick wall impressed many of you, your comments made me smile. Thank you for them and thank you for sharing your experience with mnemonics. One needs to invest some energy into coming up with them and into mastering their techniques but then they may prove really useful and helpful. Never late to (re)start practising them… 🙂

  13. Carola

    Oh I love the egg and the brick wall…. In German we have a word for mnemonics, it's a "Eselsbrücke" (donkey's bridge) which is exactly what you describe here. I have used many of those throughout my whole life, and I also have used visualization which is very helpful as well (and is kind of the same thing).

  14. Linda

    What a fun post this was, Petra! I'm ashamed to say that I had to look up the meaning of "mnemonics" when I saw it in the post title. I'm going to have to come up with one to help me remember that word. 🙂
    I know we use them all the time, especially in trying to remember given names; but I can't think of a one right now. The one about the Czech flag really made me smile, though.

  15. Maery Rose

    I can never remember the relationship I thought of to help remember something so I've given up remembering anything. It's not age. I've never been able to hold factual information in my head. Which is why I'm thankful for cell phones and applications like Evernote that allow me to carry notes wherever I go. So I have notes to remember which wines I like, how to do a screen capture on my computer, what days and times the library is open, what movies or books someone has recommended and so on and those notes are as close as my iPhone. I admire anyone clever enough to keep such information in their heads.

  16. Sarah Laurence

    Marvelous post! I love mnemonics too. That's neat to have a 9 digit number for easier memorization. I still remember my best friend from high school phone number even though the line was disconnected decades ago. Smart phone use must be impairing our memories as I know so few phone numbers now.

  17. Kelly

    The way our minds work can be so fascinating, and yes, these little devices can make all the difference between remembering and forgetting. I love the one about the flag, you're right, you could never forget that!

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