Thursday, July 16, 2009


Do you know Roy G Biv? He is the fictitious man whose name is a mnemonic for remembering the colours of the rainbow - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.

A mnemonic is a technique used to help remember and recall information. The word mnemonic is from the Greek word mnemonikos which refers to Mnemosyne, the personification of memory in Greek mythology.

Mnemonics are usually based on a word, name, acronym, rhyme or short sentence.
First letter mnemonics encode the information to be remembered as the first letter of a name or word, such as ROY G BIV.

Another example is the mnemonic for remembering attributes of goals: SMART. The letters standing for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. The problem with these first letter mnemonics is being able to recall the word if there are many similar words with the same first letter.

I recently learnt a mnemonic for remembering the states of Canada from West to East: BASMOQ (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec).

Sentence mnemonics encode the information as the first letter of each word in a memorable sentence. I prefer this method as the imagery of the action is more memorable.

The colours of the rainbow can also be learnt as Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain. Personally, I prefer ROY G BIV.

I learnt the names of the Great Lakes in America as Some Men Have Early Onions (Superior, Michigan, Huon, Erie and Ontario). It is a silly sentence but I have remembered it for over 35 years.

When I learnt piano, my teacher used mnemonics to teach the names of the notes on a treble clef: Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit (EGBDF) and FACE for the notes between the lines. On the Bass Clef, the lines are Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always, and the notes been the lines are All Cows Eat Grass.

I devised a mnemonic to remember the order of letters in the Japanese syllabary (Hiragana and Katakana): A Kind Samurai Told Naomi How My Yak Ran Wild. This allows me to remember the first letter in each row: A, Ka, Sa, Ta, Na, Ha, Ma, Ya, Ra, Wa. What about N and O?

Rhyme Mnemonics are short verses or poems to help remember information. The earliest one I learnt was to remember the number of days in the month.
30 days hath September,
April, June and November
All the rest have 31
Except February, 28
The first two lines are the most useful part of the verse and I still use this mnemonic. I know February has 28 days and 29 days in leap years, so I only need to know which months have 30 days.

Another rhyme I learnt in Primary school was In fourteen ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. This is not much use as all it tells me is a year. I don't know where Columbus went or why!

I use the rhyme of I before E except after C to determine spelling of words receive and sieve. Another spelling mnemonic was to determine the difference between principal (head of a school) and principle: The principal is your pal (friend)

Mnemonics are good for recall as well as fun and a quick way to recall information. I don't use them much but it is good mental exercise to devise them.

Here is an exercise that shows how the alphabet can help you recall all the boys (or girls) names you can recall in a limited name. Decide whether you are going to recall boys' or girls' names.

1. Set a timer for 2 minutes.

2. Write as many names as you can.

Reflect on how you recalled these names. Did you think of people you worked with? Your friends? People from your school days?

3. Now write the letters of the alphabet, set the timer for another 2 minutes then write a name against each letter of the alphabet.

What sort of names did you think of immediately for each letter? Which letters did you get stuck on thinking of name. What Boys names begin with Y? Which Girls names begin with X?

4. Set the timer for another 2 minutes and write more names against the letters in any order you like.

Were the names you had already written useful in generating more associations?

Did you notice how the first letter is like a piece of bait used in "fishing" for ideas? I will have more to say on this topic in a future blog article about a book (and software program) called Ideafisher.

Do you have some fun mnemonics? What mnemonics have you used in your life? Please share in the comments.

1. Read more about Mnemosyne , Mnemonics and SMART Criteria at Wikipedia.


  1. I remember my elementary days working that abbreviation colors.

    Laby[big suit]

  2. Canada does not have 'states', they are provinces.