Mnemonic major system

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The Major System (also called the phonetic number system or phonetic mnemonic system) is a mnemonic technique used to aid in memorizing numbers. It works by converting numbers first into consonant sounds, then into words by adding vowels. The words can then be remembered more easily than the numbers, especially when using other mnemonic rules which call for the words to be visual and emotive.


[edit] The system

Each digit is mapped onto a number of consonants. Vowels and the consonants w, h and y are ignored and can be used as 'fillers' to make up sensible words from the resulting consonant sequences. The most popular mapping, and set of hooks for remembering it, is:

0 s, z, soft c "z" is the first letter of zero. The others have a similar sound
1 d, t d, t have one downstroke and sound similar(some variants include th)
2 n n has two downstrokes
3 m three downstrokes , also "m" looks like a "3" on its side
4 r last letter of four, also 4 and R are almost mirror images of each other
5 l L is the Roman Numeral for 50
6 j, sh, soft ch, dg, zh, soft g a script j has a lower loop / g is almost a 6 flipped over
7 k, hard c, hard g, q, qu capital K contains two sevens
8 f, v script f resembles a figure-8. V sounds similar. (some variants include th)
9 b, p p is a mirror-image 9. b sounds similar and resembles a 9 rolled around
Unassigned Vowel sounds, w,h,y These can be used anywhere without changing a word's number value

Each digit maps to a set of similar sounds with similar mouth and tongue positions. The mapping is phonetic, so it is the consonant sounds that matter, not the spelling. Therefore a word like action would encode the number 762, not 712; and ghost would be 701, while, because the gh in enough is pronounced like an f, the word enough encodes the number 28. Similarly, double letters are disregarded. The word missile is mapped to 305, not 3005. To encode 3005 one would use something like mossy sail. Often the mapping is compact. Hindquarters, for example, translates unambiguously to 2174140, which amounts to 7 digits encoded by 12 letters, and can be easily visualized.

The system works also very well with phone numbers. One would then typically come up with multiple words, preferably a sentence, or an ordered sequence of images featuring the owner of the number.

The groups of similar sounds and the rules for applying the mappings are almost always fixed, but other hooks and mappings can be used as long as the person using the system can remember them and apply them consistently. The magician Derren Brown, for instance, chooses the number 5 to map to the f and v sounds because the word 'five' uses both of those sounds.

The Major System can be conveniently combined with a peg system for remembering lists, and is sometimes used also as a method of generating the pegs. It can also be combined with other memory techniques such as rhyming, substitute words, or the method of loci. Repetition and concentration using the ordinary memory is still required.

An advantage of this system over some systems in mnemonics in which the number of letters in a word (in a phrase) gives the corresponding digit is that the former is more compact--a single word usually gives several numbers, and no counting is required. Moreover, the counting letter scheme fails if the number contains zeros. Another advantage of the major system is that it is possible to use a computer to translate the number that is to be remembered into a sequence of words automatically. One may then pick the best one of the several offered alternatives, which may not have occurred to one using ordinary memory.

[edit] History

The major system was introduced by Stanislaus Mink von Wennsshein over 300 years ago, and was later developed by many others with many variations. In 1730, Dr. Richard Grey set forth a complicated system that used both consonants and vowels to represent the digits. In 1808 Gregor von Feinaigle introduced the improvement of representing the digits by consonant sounds, but reversed the values of 8 and 9 from that given above. The particular implementation given here is that used by Harry Lorayne, a best selling contemporary author on memory. Variants on it continue to be proposed, such as the Human Character System.

Both the method of loci and the major system were routinely taught to schoolchildren for centuries, at least until 1584, when a huge controversy over the loci method broke out in England as Puritans attacked it as impious because it calls up absurd and obscene thoughts.[citation needed] The same objection can be made over the major system, with or without the method of loci. Mental images may be easier to remember if they are insulting, violent, or obscene (see Von Restorff effect).

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