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A mnemonic device (pronounced "neh-mon-ik") is a memory and/or learning aid. Commonly met mnemonics are often verbal, something such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something, particularly lists, but may be visual, kinesthetic or auditory. Mnemonics rely on associations between easy-to-remember constructs which can be related back to the data that is to be remembered. This is based on the principle that the human mind much more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, sexual or humorous or otherwise meaningful information than arbitrary sequences.

The word mnemonic is derived from the Ancient Greek word μνημονικός mnemonikos ("of memory") and is related to Mnemosyne ("remembrance"), the name of the goddess of memory in Greek mythology. Both of these words refer back to μνημα mnema ("remembrance").[1] Mnemonics in antiquity were most often considered in the context of what is today known as the Art of Memory.

The major assumption in antiquity was that there are two sorts of memory: the "natural" memory and the "artificial" memory. The former is inborn, and is the one that everyone uses every day. The artificial memory is one that is trained through learning and practicing a variety of mnemonic techniques. The latter can be used to perform feats of memory that are quite extraordinary, impossible to carry out using the natural memory alone.


[edit] First letter mnemonics

One common mnemonic for remembering lists consists of an easily remembered acronym, or phrase with an acronym that is associated with the list items. The idea lends itself well to memorizing hard-to-break passwords as well.

For example, to remember the "classic" named colours of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet), it can be easier for some people to remember the mnemonics "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" or "Roy G. Biv" (a made-up name) instead.

Another example is the Zoology mnemonic, used to remember the scientific classification applied in zoology.

[edit] Other mnemonic systems

[edit] Arbitrariness of mnemonics

A curious characteristic of many memory systems is that mnemonics work despite being (or possibly because of being) illogical or arbitrary. "Roy" is a legitimate first name, but there is no actual surname "Biv" and of course the middle initial "G" is arbitrary.[citation needed] Why is "Roy G. Biv" easy to remember in order to memorise the order that the seven colours of the rainbow appear? ROYGBIV can also be expressed as the almost meaningless phrase "Roy Great Britain the Fourth" again referencing "Roy" but using the GB national code for Great Britain and the Roman numerals for 4, viz: IV. The sentence "Richard of York gave battle in vain" is commonly used in the UK. Any two of the three months ending in -ember would fit just as euphoniously as September and November in "Thirty days hath...", yet most people can remember the rhyme correctly for a lifetime after having heard it once, and are never troubled by doubts as to which two of the -ember months have thirty days.[citation needed] A bizarre arbitrary association may stick in the mind better than a logical one.[citation needed]

One reason for the effectiveness of seemingly arbitrary mnemonics is the grouping of information provided by the mnemonic. Just as US phone numbers group 10 digits into three groups, the name "Roy G. Biv" groups seven colors into two short names and an initial. Various studies (most notably The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two) have shown that the human brain is capable of remembering only a limited number of arbitrary items in working memory; grouping these items into chunks permits the brain to hold more of them in memory.

[edit] Assembly mnemonics

In assembly language a mnemonic is a code, usually from 1 to 5 letters, that represents an opcode, followed by one or more numbers (the operands).

Programming in machine code, by supplying the computer with the numbers of the operations it must perform, can be quite a burden, because for every operation the corresponding number must be looked up or remembered. Looking up all numbers takes a lot of time, and mis-remembering a number may introduce computer bugs.

Therefore a set of mnemonics was devised. Each number was represented by an alphabetic code. So instead of entering the number corresponding to addition to add two numbers one can enter "add".

Although mnemonics differ between different CPU designs some are common, for instance: "sub" (subtract), "div" (divide), "add" (add) and "mul" (multiply).

This type of mnemonic is different from the ones listed above in that instead of a way to make remembering numbers easier, it is a way to make remembering numbers unnecessary (e.g. by relying on the computer's assembler program to do the lookup work.)

[edit] Mnemonics in foreign language acquisition

Mnemonics can be helpful in studying a foreign language, for example by adapting a foreign word that is hard to remember to a pre-existent phrase in the learner's native language - using folk etymology. Linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann has proposed many Anglo-Hebraic lexical mnemonics for English-speaking students of Israeli Hebrew. For example, in trying to assist the learner to remember ohel, the Hebrew word for tent, Zuckermann proposes the memorable sentence "Oh hell, there's a raccoon in my tent". The memorable sentence "There's a fork in Ma’s leg" may help the learner remember that the Hebrew word for fork is mazleg, and so forth.[2] The notable linguist Michel Thomas taught students to remember that estar is the Spanish word for to be by using the phrase "to be a star", of course. The mnemonic "bags" is used to help students of French to remember which adjectives go before the noun, "Beauty, Age, Goodness, and Size."

[edit] History of mnemonics

See the Art of Memory.

See the Method of Loci.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Liddell, H. G.; R. Scott (1889). Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-910206-6. 
  2. ^ Anglo-Hebraic lexical mnemonics for English-speaking students of Israeli Hebrew, by Ghil'ad Zuckermann.

[edit] External links

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