After a recent blog on frequently confused words, one of the more literistic* customers wrote to say she uses a mnemonic to distinguish continuous from continual. She remembers that the word ending in OUS means One Uninterrupted Sequence. Mnemonics have been useful devices for millennia, to help the fevered brain recall hard-to-remember facts, especially lists of items.
You’re probably familiar with HOMES, which is supposed to remind you of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Of course, if you want to remember them in order of size, you’ll have to think of SHMEO, which is harder to do.
It’s just about as difficult to come up with the name of that noted celebrity ROY G. BIV. But if you do, he will lead you effortlessly to the colors of the spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Our British cousins prefer a historical allusion to the defeat of Richard Duke of York at the Battle of Wakefield: Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. Whatever works.
Many of us remember Every Good Boy Does Fine for the notes on the lines of the treble staff. In Britain, as we know from the play by Tom Stoppard and André Previn, it’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. And the bass clef lines tell us that those Good Boys Do Fine Always.
Biological taxonomy is embedded in the memory by Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach, which, to those in the know, can be rendered as Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.
And for mathematicians who want to remember the first digits of pi (3.14159265…), there’s “How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics…” Just count the number of letters in each word. That could go on forever.
Mnemonics get their name from the mythical Greek Titan Mnemosyne, the daughter of Gaia and Uranus, the mother of the Nine Muses—and the possessor of a prodigious memory.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou’s memory is not prodigious, but his appetite for the ludicrous is nothing short of miraculous, as you may easily discern from the following:
Roy G. Biv
Remarked one day in Greenwich,
“Kids Prefer Cheese”
(Roy paused to sneeze)
“Over Fried Green Speenwich.”
*I have no more idea than you do what “literistic” means—but it’s part of the name of a New York agency that represents writers like Ruth Rendell, Dick Francis, and John Irving, so I figure it must have something to do with books.