mnemonics

Italian pegwords

Find out about the pegword mnemonic

Here are pegwords I've thought up in the Italian language.

As with the original example, let's try it out with our cranial nerves.

In italiano, sono i nervi cranici:

  1. olfattorio
  2. ottico
  3. oculumotore
  4. trocleare
  5. trigemino
  6. abducente
  7. faciale
  8. cocleare
  9. glossofaríngeo
  10. vago
  11. accessorio
  12. ipoglosso

Each mnemonic image contains the pegword image plus something to denote the cranial nerve. In some cases, that can be very simple. But if the name of the nerve is less obvious, there will be items that refer to the function of the nerve and ones that provide keywords to the name. Such keywords are written in bold.

1 è la luna e il nervo cranico 1 è olfattivo - la luna con un grande naso:

1 is the moon and cranial nerve 1 is olfactory — the moon with a big nose:

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2 è un bue e il nervo cranico 2 è ottico - il bue usa una lente d'ingrandimento per leggere il giornale:

2 is an ox and cranial nerve 2 is optic — the ox uses a magnifying glass to read the newspaper:

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3 è un fratè e il nervo cranico 3 è oculomotore - grandi occhiali sul motociclista che viene fermato bruscamente dai poteri del fratè:

3 is a friar and cranial nerve 3 is oculomotor — big goggles on the motorcyclist who is abruptly halted by the powers of the friar:

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4 è una stella e il nervo cranico 4 è trocleare - la punta acuminata della stella penetra l'occhio ma il tricolore asciuga il sangue:

4 is a star and cranial nerve 4 is trochlear — the sharp point of the star pierces the eye but the tricolore wipes up the blood:

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5 è lingue e il nervo cranico 5 è trigemino - relativo alla mascella, quindi abbiamo due lingue nella mascella e tre gemme che cadono sulla lingua distesa:

5 is tongues and cranial nerve 5 is trigeminal — relating to the jaw, so we have two tongues in the jaw and three gems falling onto the outstretched tongue:

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6 è rosai e il nervo cranico 6 è abducente - anche in relazione con l'occhio, quindi abbiamo rose che galleggiano sul succo di albicocca e qualcuno che raggiunge per far cadere un occhio nel bicchiere:

6 is rosebushes and cranial nerve 6 is abducens — also relating to the eye, so we have roses floating on the apricot juice and someone reaching to drop an eye in the glass:

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7 è scalette e il nervo cranico 7 è facciale - una scala che corre fino alla bocca su una faccina sorridente:

7 is ladders and cranial nerve 7 is facial — a ladder running up to the mouth on a smiley face:

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8 è biscotti e il nervo cranico è uditivo - un cappello da cuoco tra due orecchie mentre presenta i suoi biscotti:

8 is biscuits and cranial nerve is auditory — a cook's hat between two ears as he presents his biscuits:

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9 è nave e il nervo cranico 9 è glossofaringeo - relativo alla gola, quindi ecco un uomo che sta per ingoiare la nave con il rosmarino:

9 is a ship and cranial nerve 9 is glossopharyngeal — relating to the throat, so here is a man about to swallow the ship with rosemary:

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10 è radici e il nervo cranico 10 è il vago - relativo al cuore, quindi una forma del cuore vaga rispecchiata dalla forma fatta dai due radici:

10 is radishes and cranial nerve 10 is vagus — relating to the heart, so a vague heart shape mirrored by the shape made by the two radishes:

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11 è spinaci e il nervo cranico 11 è accessorio - relativo al movimento della testa, quindi abbiamo una donna che scuote la testa mentre mette gli spinaci nella sua borsa (un accessorio):

11 is spinach and cranial nerve 11 is accessory — relating to head movement, so we have a woman shaking her head as she puts spinach in her bag:

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12 è noci e il nervo cranico 12 è ipoglosso - relativo alla lingua, quindi un ipodermico che inietta la lingua mentre cerca di ingoiare le noci nei loro gusci:

12 is walnuts and cranial nerve 12 is hypoglossal — relating to the tongue, so a hypodermic injecting the tongue as it tries to swallow walnuts in their shells:

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French pegwords

Find out about the pegword mnemonic

Here are pegwords I've thought up in the French language.

French pegword images

As with the original example, let's try it out with our cranial nerves.

En francais, les nerfs crâniens son:

  1. olfactif
  2. optique
  3. oculomotor
  4. trochlear
  5. trijumeau
  6. abducens
  7. facial
  8. auditive
  9. glosso
  10. vague ou pneumogastrique
  11. accessoire
  12. hypoglosse

Each mnemonic image contains the pegword image plus something to denote the cranial nerve. In some cases, that can be very simple. But if the name of the nerve is less obvious, there will be items that refer to the function of the nerve and ones that provide keywords to the name. Such keywords are written in bold.

1 est la lune et nerf crânien 1 est olfactif — imaginez la lune avec un gros nez:

1 is the moon and cranial nerve 1 is olfactory — imagine the moon with a large nose:

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2 est les yeux et nerf crânien 2 est optique — soulignons les yeux avec une loupe:

2 is eyes and cranial nerve 2 is optic — let's highlight the eyes with a magnifying glass:

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3  est une croix et nerf crânien 3 est oculomotor — imaginez un motard portant de grandes lunettes de protection qui s'écrase dans une ambulance avec une grosse croix sur le côté:

3 is a cross and cranial nerve 3 is oculomotor — imagine a motorcyclist wearing big goggles who crashes into an ambulance with a giant cross on the side:

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4 es un arbre et nerf crânien 4 est trochlear — le gros oeil attrapé dans l'arbre signale que ce nerf est aussi relié aux yeux et que le troquile nous indique le nom:

4 is a tree and cranial nerve 4 is trochlear — the large eye caught in the tree signals that this nerve is also related to eyes and the hummingbird cues us to the name:

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Si "troquile" ne vous convient pas, vous pouvez utiliser le mot-clé "troc / truck":

If "troquile" doesn't work for you, you could use the keyword truck:

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5 est une sainte et nerf crânien 5 est trijumeau — ce nerf se rapporte à la mâchoire, et notre mot clé est trois jumeaux:

5 is a saint and cranial nerve 5 is trigeminal —the nerve relates to the jaw, and our keyword is triplets:

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6 est un vis et nerf crânien 6 est abducens — imaginez qu’une grosse vis a enlevé un œil et perce maintenant un abricot pour en faire du jus d’abricot dans lequel l’œil est sur le point de tomber ('jus' est là pour souligner le 'duce' en abducens):

6 is a screw and cranial nerve 6 is adbucens — this relates to eyes again, so imagine a large screw has removed an eye and now pierces an apricot to make apricot juice, into which the eye is about to be dropped:

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7 es une tête et nerf crânien 7 est facial — imaginez un visage souriant sur notre tête rétrécie:

7 is a head and cranial nerve is facial — imagine a smiling face on our shrunken head:

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8  est magique et nerf crânien 8 es auditive — la boule de cristal magique a des oreilles:

8 is magic and cranial nerve is auditory — the magic crystal ball has ears:

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9 est un œuf et nerf crânien 9 es glosso — ce nerf est relié à la gorge, alors imaginez un garçon allongé sur un glacier, un œuf lui glissant dans la gorge:

9 is an egg and cranial nerve 9 is glossopharyngeal — this nerve relates to the throat, so imagine a boy lying back on a glacier, an egg sliding down his throat:

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10 est une saucisse et nerf crânien 10 est vague ou pneumogastrique — ce nerf concerne le cœur, alors imaginez un cœur flottant sur la mer avec la saucisse à travers le pneu et une grosse vague venant les submerger.

10 is a sausage and cranial nerve 10 is vagus —this nerve concerns the heart, so imagine a heart floating on the sea with the sausage stuck through the tyre and a giant wave coming to drown them:

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11 est un éponge et nerf crânien 11 est accessoire — ce nerf est lié au mouvement de la tête; nous avons donc une femme qui secoue la tête en essuyant son sac (accessoire) avec une éponge:

11 is a sponge and cranial nerve 11 is accessory — this nerve relates to head movement; so we have a woman shaking her head while wiping her bag with a sponge:

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12 est une blouse et nerf crânien 12 est hypoglosse, qui se rapporte à la langue, voici donc une blouse à petites langues et hypodermique:

12 is a blouse and cranial nerve 12 is hypoglossal, which relates to the tonge, so here is a blouse patterned with little tongues and hypodermics:

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Learning the Greek alphabet

As I said in my discussion of different scripts, the Hellenic languages use the Greek alphabet. Here it is. I’m afraid the table is a little complicated, because (a) each letter has a name, which it’s useful to know, and (b) there are some differences in pronunciation between Ancient Greek (which is still a language that people want to learn today), and Modern Greek. To try and keep it simple, I have only mentioned those that are not as they seem to an English speaker (Ancient Greek), or, in Modern Greek, those that vary from their Ancient sounds.

  Name Transcription Ancient Greek pronunciation Modern Greek pronunciation
Α α alpha a short as in await or cup, or long as in father as in father
Β β beta b   v as in vote
Γ γ gamma g as in get, but sometimes like sing y as in yellow
Δ δ delta d   th as in then
Ε ε epsilon e short e, as in set  
Ζ ζ zeta z as in wisdom z as in zoo
Η η eta (long e) e long e, as in hair i as in machine
Θ θ theta th t as in top th as in thin
Ι ι iota i short, as in hit  
Κ κ kappa k    
Λ λ lambda l    
Μ μ mu m    
Ν ν nu n    
Ξ ξ xi ks    
Ο ο omicron o short as in pot  
Π π pi p    
Ρ ρ rho r trilled  
Σ ς sigma s    
Τ τ tau t    
Υ υ upsilon u or y short as in French lune, or long as in French ruse  
Φ φ phi ph as in pot f as in five
Χ χ chi (kh) ch as in cat ch as in loch or Bach
Ψ ψ psi ps both pronounced, as in lips  
Ω ω omega (long o) ô as in saw short o, as in soft

 

Here are some visual mnemonics to help you learn all this. Note that these mnemonic cards include a keyword to help you remember the name of the letter, and another one to help you remember how it’s pronounced.

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Learning the Russian alphabet

As I said in my discussion of different scripts, Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Here it is (the 3rd column shows the English counterpart):

А  а   a

Б  б   b

В  в   v

Г  г   g

Д  д   d

Е  е   ye

Ё  ё   yo

Ж  ж   zh

З  з   z

И  и   i

Й  й   y

К  к   c

Л  л   l

М  м   m

Н  н   n

О  о   o

П  п   p

Р  р   r

С  с   s

Т  т   t

У  у   u

Ф  ф   f

Х  х   kh

Ц  ц   ts

Ч  ч   ch

Ш  ш   sh

Щ  щ   sh (softer)

Ъ  ъ   hard sign

Ы  ы   y

Ь  ь   soft sign

Э  э   e

Ю  ю   yu

Я  я   ya

In my workbook for the Russian script, I use several strategies to help learners achieve mastery quickly and thoroughly. These strategies include:

  • grouping
  • visual mnemonics
  • test questions to help you practice
  • vocabulary lists for further practice.

These vocab lists appear for each group of letters, so you can practice on words that only use the letters you have learned. To make them easier to read (and also, beneficially, remember), the words are mostly cognate with English words (my Indo-European Cognate Dictionary was invaluable for that).

Some of the visual mnemonics are ‘cards’ for each letter. For example;

 

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Each “card” shows, first, the upper and lower case forms of the Russian letter, written in a color picked out from the picture. Below these is the English letter that is translated as its equivalent. Below that is a word, in English, showing how that letter is pronounced. The part of the word that is the appropriate sound is written using the Russian letter. A picture showing the meaning of the word is then shown — not because the word is anything other than simple! but because images are generally much more memorable than words.

The images, where necessary, are also used to help remember the shapes of unfamiliar letters, for example:

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The images are also used in stories to help remember the order of the letters.

You can augment the lessons in the book with some activities I've provided. Even if you don't have the book, if you are learning Russian, or are interested in refreshing your knowledge of it, you may find the games helpful or fun.

 

tags strategies: 

Spanish Pegwords

Find out about the pegword mnemonic

Here are pegwords I've thought up in the Spanish language.

As with the original example, let's try it out with our cranial nerves.

En español, los nervios craneales son:

  1. olfatorio
  2. óptico
  3. motor ocular comun
  4. troclear
  5. trigémino
  6. abducens
  7. facial
  8. auditivo
  9. glosofaríngeo
  10. neumogástrico
  11. accesorio
  12. hipogloso

Each mnemonic image contains the pegword image plus something to denote the cranial nerve. In some cases, that can be very simple. But if the name of the nerve is less obvious, there will be items that refer to the function of the nerve and ones that provide keywords to the name. Such keywords are written in bold.

1 es el vino y nervio craneal 1 es olfatorio — una botella de vino que se vierte en un orificio nasal:

1 is wine and cranial nerve 1 is olfactory — a bottle of wine is pushed into a nostril:

mnemonic image

2 es un oso y nervio craneal 2 es óptico — el oso usa una lupa para leer el periódico:

2 is a bear and cranial nerve 2 is optic — the bear uses a magnifying glass to read the newspaper:

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3  es un tren y nervio craneal 3 es motor ocular comun — grandes gafas de protección en el motociclista que salta el tren:

3 is a train and cranial nerve 3 is oculomotor — big goggles on the motorcyclist who is jumping the train:

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4 es un cuadro y nervio craneal 4 es troclear — imagina trocear el cuadro del ojo:

4 is a picture and cranial nerve 4 is trochlear — imagine cutting the picture of an eye:

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5 es un banco y nervio craneal 5 es trigémino — relacionado con la mandíbula, por lo que tres gemas caen de una mandíbula en el banco:

5 is a bench and cranial nerve 5 is trigeminal — relating to the jaw, so three gems fall from a jaw onto the bench:

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6 es el maíz y nervio craneal 6 es abducens — también en relación con el ojo, por lo que un ojo cae sobre el maíz tirado en el adoquín:

6 is corn and cranial nerve 6 is abducens — also relating to the eye, so an eye falling on the corn lying on the paving stones:

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7 es un diente y nervio craneal 7 es facial — nuestro diente feliz rebotando de una boca en una cara sonriente:

7 is a tooth and cranial nerve 7 is facial — our happy tooth bouncing from the mouth on a smiley face:

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8  es un ojo y nervio craneal 8 es auditivo — un ojo entre dos orejas:

8 is an eye and cranial nerve is auditory — an eye between two ears:

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9 es un nave y nervio craneal 9 es glosofaríngeo — se relaciona con la garganta, por lo que aquí un hombre está a punto de tragar la nave espacial, mientras que un faraón escribe una glosa:

9 is a ship and cranial nerve 9 is glossopharyngeal — relating to the throat, so here is a man about to swallow the spaceship, while a pharaoh writes a commentary, a gloss:

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10 es un pez y nervio craneal 10 es neumogástrico — conectado al corazón, así que un pez saltando a traves de un neumático para alcanzar un corazón:

10 is a fish and cranial nerve 10 is vagus — connected to the heart, so fish jumping through a tyre to reach a heart:

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11 es un guante y nervio craneal 11 es accesorio — se relaciona con la cabeza, entonces un guante y una cabeza encogida en una bolsa (un accesorio):

11 is a glove and cranial nerve 11 is accessory — relating to the head, so a glove and a shrunken head in a bag:

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12 es un coche y nervio craneal 12 es hipogloso — en relación con la lengua, por lo que un hipodérmico adormece la lengua cuando un automóvil pasa sobre ella:

12 is a car and cranial nerve 12 is hypoglossal — relating to the tongue, so a hypodermic injecting the tongue as a car drives onto it:

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Māori pegwords

Find out about the pegword mnemonic

To celebrate Māori Language Week here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), I've put together a pegword set in te reo:

  1. tahi — ahi
  2. rua — ua
  3. toru — tūru
  4. whā — taniwha
  5. rima — rama
  6. ono — hono
  7. whitu — whatu
  8. waru — karu
  9. iwa — taraiwa
  10. tekau — rākau

Maori pegs

The taniwha is taken from an image posted by Archives New Zealand. www.archway.archives.govt.nz/ViewFullItem.do?code=18810047

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Pegword mnemonic

If you have a numbered list to memorize, the best mnemonic strategy is the pegword mnemonic. This mnemonic uses numbers which have been transformed into visual images. Here's the standard 1-10 set.

pegs

I add two more:

To apply the strategy to a list, you visualize these images with the items to be remembered. So, for example, you might be a medical student wanting to memorize the 12 cranial nerves:

  1. olfactory
  2. optic
  3. oculomotor
  4. trochlear
  5. trigeminal
  6. abducens
  7. facial
  8. auditory
  9. glossopharyngeal
  10. vagus
  11. accessory
  12. hypoglossal

They're traditionally memorized using the first-letter mnemonic:

On Old Olympia’s Towering Top A Finn And German Vault And Hop.

I discuss what's wrong with this approach in my book Mnemonics for Study (from which the following example also comes).

Let's see how we can combine the keyword and pegword mnemonics to help remember not only the order, but also what each nerve relates to, and the names themselves:

  1. a nose diving into a bun
    1st peg
  2. eyes on a shoe
    2nd peg
  3. an eye on a motorbike running over a tree
    3rd peg
  4. a truck running into a door with eyes (the trochlear nerve also relates to the eyes)
    4th peg
  5. a jaw spitting three gems at a hive (the trigeminal nerve is attached to the jaw)
    5th peg

and so on.

The pegword method does require you to learn the pegs very well — you don't want to need to think at all about what image corresponds to each number. This is why the words are short and well-known, and rhyme.

If you're not very good at visualizing, you can still use the pegword method — simply use the words rather than images. In that case, you're not constrained by needing to have concrete words that are easy to visualize. Some people have had good results with an abstract set. For example, you could try:

one is fun

two is true

three is free

four is more

five is alive

six is for kicks

seven is heaven (let's face it, this is more abstract than concrete!)

eight is late

nine is fine

ten is when

eleven is even

twelve is delve

So, with our cranial nerves, we could say:

  1. to smell is fun
  2. eyes are true
  3. free the motors
  4. more trucks!
  5. gems are alive
  6. he abducts for kicks
  7. a facial is heaven
  8. I hear he's late
  9. a glossy pharaoh is fine
  10. when is vague
  11. with an accessory even!
  12. delve for the hypodermic

You can make up your own pegs. The golden rule is simply that you want them to be deeply and easily memorable. So go with whatever works for you.

To celebrate Māori Language Week here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), I've worked out a set in Māori.

In token of the version of Mnemonics for Study that comes with a Spanish glossary, I have also worked out a Spanish set.

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New mnemonics books & articles

  • New 2nd edition of Mnemonics for Study
  • New Spanish & Italian editions
  • New mnemonics articles

book coverI have updated my Mnemonics for Study book. The two main changes are that each chapter now has review questions, and there's an extra chapter which is a very detailed step-by-step case study, showing how and when to use mnemonics to learn the Geological Time Scale. There are lots of visuals,  mnemonics and others.

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Memorizing the Geological Time Scale

In the following case study, I explore in depth the issue of learning the geological time scale — names, dates, and defining events. The emphasis is on developing mnemonics, of course, but an important part of the discussion concerns when and when not to use mnemonics, and how to decide.


The Geological Time Scale

Phanerozoic Eon 542 mya—present

  Cenozoic Era 65 mya—present

    Neogene Period 23 mya—present

Holocene Epoch 8000 ya—present

Pleistocene Epoch 1.8 mya—8000ya

Pliocene Epoch 5.3 mya—1.8 mya

Miocene Epoch 23 mya—5.3 mya

   Paleogene Period 65 mya—23 mya

Oligocene Epoch 34 mya—23 mya

Eocene Epoch 56 mya—34 mya

Paleocene Epoch 65 mya—56 mya

  Mesozoic Era 250 mya—65 mya

    Cretaceous Period 145 mya—65 mya

    Jurassic Period 200 mya—145 mya

    Triassic Period 250 mya—200 mya

  Paleozoic Era 542 mya—250 mya

    Permian Period 300 mya—250 mya

    Carboniferous Period 360 mya—300 mya

    Devonian Period 416mya—360 mya

    Silurian Period 444 mya—416 mya

    Ordovician Period 488 mya—444 mya

    Cambrian Period 542mya—488 mya

Precambrian 4560 mya—542 mya

 Proterozoic Eon 2500 mya—542 mya

 Archean Eon 3800 mya—2500 mya

 Hadean Eon 4560 mya—3800 mya


How do we set about learning all this? Let’s look at our possible strategies.

Memorizing new words, lists and dates

Acronyms

A common trick to help remember the geological time scale is to use a first-letter acronym, such as the classic:

Camels Often Sit Down Carefully; Perhaps Their Joints Creak? Persistent Early Oiling Might Prevent Permanent Rheumatism.

(This begins with the Cambrian Period and moves forward in time; note that in this traditional mnemonic the Holocene Epoch is here thought of by its older name of “Recent Epoch”.)

What’s the problem with this, as a way of remembering the geological scale?

It assumes we already know the names.

The principal (and often, only) purpose of an acronym is to remind you of the order of items that you already know.

A common problem with acronyms (first-letter by definition) is that there are often repeats of initials, causing confusion. A more useful strategy (though far more difficult) might be to use the first two or preferably three letters of the words. This not only distinguishes more clearly between items, but also provides a much better cue for items that are not hugely familiar. For example, here’s one I came up with for the geological time-scale:

Hollow Pleadings Plight Miosis;

Olive Eons Pall Creation; (or Olive Eons Palm Credulous, for a slight rhyme)

Juries Trick Perplexed Carousers;

Devils Silence Ordered Campers.

Because it is extremely difficult to make a meaningful sentence with these restraints (largely because of rare combinations such as Eo- and Mio- and to a lesser extent, Pli, Oli, and Jur), I have used rhythm to group it into a verse. There’s a slight rhyme, but it’s amazing how much power rhythm has to facilitate memory on its own.

It is easier, of course, to construct a sentence with these items if you are allowed to include a few “insignificant” words (i.e., not nouns or verbs) to hold them all together. Here’s a possible sentence, this time starting from the oldest and moving forward to the most recent:

Campers Order Silver Devils to Carry Persons Tricking Jurisprudent Cretins in Palmy Eons of Olive Milk and Pliant Pleadings for Holidays

The problem with both this and the “verse” is that they are too long, given their difficulty, to be readily memorable. The answer to this is organization, and later we’ll discuss how to use organization to reduce the mnemonic burden. But first, let’s deal with another problem.

Although the use of three-letter acronyms lessens the need for such deep familiarity with the items to be learned, you do still need to know the items. With names as strange as the ones used in the geological time-scale, the best strategy is probably the keyword mnemonic (or at least a simplified version).

Looking for meaning

But let’s start by considering the origin of the names. If they’re meaningful, if there is a logic to the naming that we can follow, our task will be made incomparably easier.

Unfortunately, in this case there’s not a lot of logic to the naming. Some of the periods are named after geographical areas where rocks from this period are common, or where they were first found — these are probably the easiest to learn. The epochs in particular, however, are problematic, as they are very similar, being based on ancient Greek (in which few students are now trained), and, most importantly of all, being essentially meaningless.

Let’s look at them in detail. The common cene ending comes from the Greek for new (ceno).

  • Holocene is from holos meaning entire
  • Pleistocene is from pleistos meaning most
  • Pliocene is from pleion meaning more
  • Miocene is from meion meaning less
  • Oligocene is from oligos meaning little, few
  • Eocene is from eos meaning dawn
  • Paleocene is from palaois meaning old

So we have

  • Holocene: entire new
  • Pleistocene: most new
  • Pliocene: more new
  • Miocene: less new
  • Oligocene: little new
  • Eocene: dawn new
  • Paleocene: old new

You could find this helpful (remember that we’re moving backward in time, so that the Holocene is indeed the newest of these, and the Paleocene is the oldest), but the naming is really too arbitrary and meaningless to be of great help.

Better to come up with associations that have more meaning, even if that meaning is imposed by you. Here’s some words you could use:

  • Holocene: holy; hollow; hologram; holly
  • Pleistocene: plasticine; plastic
  • Pliocene: pliable; pliant; pliers
  • Miocene: my; milo; myopic
  • Oligocene: oligarchy; olive; oliphaunt (! Notice that the words don’t have to be familiar to the whole world, even the dictionary-makers; the important thing is that they have significance to you)
  • Eocene: eon; enzyme; obscene (note that it is not necessary for the word to begin with the same letter(s) — a particularly difficult task in this instance; what’s important is whether the word will serve as a good link for you)
  • Paleocene: palace; palatial; paleolithic

To tie your chosen word to the word to be learned, you must form an association (that’s why it’s so important to choose a word that’s good for you — associations are very personal). For example, you could say:

  • Holograms are very recent (the Holocene is the most recent epoch)
  • Glaciers are plastic or My glaciers are made of plasticine (the Pleistocene was the time of the “Great Ice Age”)
  • The pliant Americas joined together or Pliable hominids arose (Hominidae began in the Pliocene, and North and South America joined up)
  • Mild weather saw Africa collide with Asia (the Miocene was warmer than the preceding epoch; during this time Africa finally connected to Eurasia)
  • Elephants become oligarchs! (during the Oligocene mammals became the dominant vertebrates)
  • Continents obscenely separate (Laurasia, the northern supercontinent, began to break up at the beginning of the Eocene; Gondwanaland, the southern supercontinent, continued its breakup)
  • Pale from the disaster, we pull ourselves together (the Paleocene marks the beginning of a new era, after the K-T boundary event (thought by many to be an asteroid impact) in which the dinosaurs and so much other life died)

Now this is not, of course, in strict accordance with the keyword method. According to this method, we should choose a word as phonetically similar to the word-to-be-learned as possible, and as concrete as possible, and then form a visual image connecting the two. While this is fine with learning a different language (the most common use for the keyword method, and the one for which it was originally designed), it is clearly very difficult to create an image for something as abstract and difficult to visualize as a period of time.

It’s also often difficult to find keywords that are both phonetically similar and concrete. We must improvise as best we may. What you need to bear in mind is that you are searching for an association that will stick in your mind, and link the unfamiliar (the information you are learning) to the familiar (information already well established in your mind).

With this in mind, look again at the suggested associations. This time, think in terms of whether you can make a picture in your mind.Holocene mnemonic image

Instead of “Holograms are very recent”, you might want to form an image of someone falling into a hole (tying the Holocene to the “Age of Humans”).

 

Glaciers made of plasticine might stand.Pleistocene mnemonic image

 

 

 

 

 

Pliocene mnemonic imageIf you can visualize very limber (perhaps in distorted postures) ape-like humans, Pliable hominids might be satisfactory, or you may need to fall back on the pliers — perhaps an image of pliers bringing North and South America together.

 

 

Miocene mnemonic imageMild weather isn’t terribly imageable; you might like to imagine milk pouring from the joint where Africa and Eurasia have collided.

 

 

Oligocene mnemonic imageOligarchs is likewise difficult, but you could visualize elephants under olive trees, eating the olives.

 

 

 

 

Eocene mnemonic imageAnd now of course, we come to the most difficult — the Eocene. Here’s a thought, for those brought up with Winnie the Pooh. If you have a clear picture of Eeyore, you could use him in this image. Perhaps Eeyore is standing on one part of the separating Laurasia (looking appropriately disconsolate).

 

 

Paleocene mnemonic image

The Paleocene might best be associated with a palace, if we’re looking for something imageable — perhaps dinosaurs sheltering in a palace as the asteroid comes down and destroys it.

 

You see from this that the demands of visual associations are often quite different from those of verbal associations. Both are effective. Whether you use verbal or visual associations should depend not only on your personal preference (some people find one easier, and some the other), but also on what the material best affords — that is, what is easiest, what comes more readily to mind, and also, which association will be less easily forgotten.

But mnemonics only take you so far. While very useful for learning new words, and for learning lists, they are not a good basis for developing an understanding of a subject — and unlike the situation of learning a language, a scientific topic definitely requires a more holistic approach. Mnemonics here are very much an adjunct strategy, not a complete solution. So before using mnemonics to fix specific hard-to-remember details in my brain, I would begin by organizing the information to be learned, with the goal of cutting it into meaningful chunks.

 

Excerpted from Mnemonics for Study

 

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Story mnemonic

The story method (sometimes called the sentence mnemonic) is the most easily learned list-mnemonic strategy, although it is not as widely known as the other simple methods we’ve talked about so far.

As its name suggests, the story method involves linking words to be learned in a story. While this is most obviously useful for learning actual lists, it can also be used for remembering the main points of a passage. In such a case, you need to reduce each point to a single word, which hopefully has the power to recall the whole point.

Let’s look at an example. First, an easy one — a list:

Vegetable Instrument College Carrot Nail Fence Basin Merchant Scale Goat

This can be transformed into:

A VEGETABLE can be a useful INSTRUMENT for a COLLEGE student. A CARROT can be a NAIL for your FENCE or BASIN. But a MERCHANT would SCALE that fence and feed the carrot to a GOAT.

But let’s face it , this is not a very probable list of words for you to memorize. The example is taken (with some modification) from a laboratory experiment1, and the few tests of the story mnemonic that there have been have tended to involve such lists of unrelated words. But learning lists of unrelated words is not something we need to do very often. And generally, if we do have lists of words to learn — say, the names of the elements in the periodic table — they’re going to be too technical to lend themselves readily to creating a story.

Even if the words themselves are not particularly technical, the nature of them is not likely to lend itself to a narrative. Let me show you what I mean. Consider the taxonomy of living things:

Kingdom

Phylum

Class

Order

Family

Genus

Species

Here’s an attempt at a story:

In the KINGDOM, PHYLUM is a matter of CLASS, but ORDER is a matter for FAMILY, and GENIUS lies in SPECIES.

The trouble with this is not the re-coding of genus to genius; the trouble is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s a sentence, but not a story — there’s no narrative. Humans think in stories. We find them easy to remember because they fit in with how we think. It follows then that the more effective story mnemonics will actually tell a story. To do that, we’re going to have to transform our technical words into more common words.

King Phillip went to the classroom to order the family genius to specifically name the individual who had stolen the taxi.

The last part of this is of course unnecessary — you could finish it after individual if you wished. But an important thing to remember is that it’s not about brevity. It’s about memorability. And memorability is not as much affected by amount to remember, as it is by the details of what is being remembered. So meaningfulness is really important. Adding that little detail about stealing the taxi adds meaningfulness (and also underlines what this mnemonic is about: taxonomy).

Here’s a longer example. Remember our hard-to-remember cranial nerves? This story was mentioned in a 1973 Psychology Today article by the eminent psychologist G.H. Bower2:

At the oil factory the optician looked for the occupant of the truck. He was searching because three gems had been abducted by a man who was hiding his face and ears. A glossy photograph had been taken of him, but it was too vague to use. He appeared to be spineless and hypocritical.

Here it is again with the nerves shown for comparison:

At the oil factory (olfactory) the optician (optic) looked for the occupant (oculomotor) of the truck (trochlear). He was searching because three gems (trigeminal) had been abducted (abducens) by a man who was hiding his face (facial) and ears (auditory). A glossy photograph (glossopharyngeal) had been taken of him, but it was too vague (vagus) to use. He appeared to be spineless (spinal accessory) and hypocritical (hypoglossal).

Notice how, with these technical words, they have been transformed into more familiar words — this is what I meant by saying the keyword method is a vital part of all these list-mnemonics.

 

Excerpted from Mnemonics for Study

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