Friday, January 23, 2009

Using Mnemonics

I have often relied on mnemonics (memory aids) to remember important ideas. First-letter mnemonics have been especially helpful. For example, I remember learning the five American Great Lakes in elementary school by associating them with the word HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. I recalled the order from the sun of the nine planets by the sentence “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto). Now that Pluto is no longer considered a planet, the slightly revised mnemonic still works: “My very educated mother just served us nothing!” Once I could not recall all seven of the deadly sins until my friend Harry Kamish said, “PALE GAS: Pride, Avarice, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Anger, Sloth.” How can I forget now?

I use a lot of these tricks and tips in my writing classes. This practice reminded one course participant, Ted Lewis, a Senior Territory Representative of Dentsply International, of what he used as an Air Force recruiter. “Our mantra was MATTRESS,” he said, “Money, Advancement, Training, Travel, Recreation, Education, Security, and Satisfaction. That’s how I still remember those eight enlisting benefits.”

Here’s one I use for the writing process, if you want to write Pretty Darn Quickly: Plan, Draft, Quality control, or PDQ. Playing these memory games is a great help when trying to cram for tests, recall key deliverables to clients, or just retain several points from a meeting.