Ask the Grumpies: Handy Mnemonic Devices

Focavista asks:

What mnemonic tricks do we know? (Somehow I have been fascinated by this recently.) For example, in chemistry I learned – “LEO the Lion says ‘GER’”. I learned “Chief SOH CAH TOA” in geometry. There is one for the planets (pre-Pluto’s downgrade) [#2 notes:  My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas], and biology has one for the classification categories (kingdom, phylum, class, etc) in biology [#2 notes:  kings play chess on fine green silk; #1 notes: King Philip came over from great Spain]. Even I invented one for my students to learn irregular verbs for a verbal tense in Spanish. I am curious about other disciplines.

Here we will list the ones we use on a regular basis or can recall off the tops of our heads.  There are some fun websites if you want to learn more.

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is order of operations (parens & exponents; multiply & divide; add & subtract).  Oddly, I remembered it as PEMDAS but had to think to remember Sally’s name.  Also can’t forget FOIL, first outside inside last… though I suppose kids these days are doing lattice multiplication instead.

Sadly many of the mnemonics I know are NSFW. For example, the one for colors on resisters. BBROYGBVGW… My first boyfriend knew a lot of these.

My favorite is “All students take calculus” which is for determining which trig things are positive in which quadrants (remembering that quadrants go counter-clockwise).  All are positive in the first quadrant, sin in the second, tan in the third, and cos in the fourth.

Kingdom, phylum, etc.:  Keep Putting Condoms On For Great Sex.  See, there, you learned two things at once!

Which reminds #2 of how compact sets are like a month’s set of birth control pills in a compact case.  Every open cover has a finite sub-cover.  She no longer remembers what that phrase actually means in terms of set theory, but will never forget the phrase.

Biologists / pre-med have the dirtiest ones.   [#2 disagrees-- she argues that EE/CS has the dirtiest because they're both dirty and misogynistic-- their mnemonics neither use condoms nor necessarily ask for consent.]  Anatomy is hard and requires lots of brute-force memorization, where mnemonics come in very useful.

Scared Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle are the bones in the forearm.

There are many from music.  FACE, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (re-written by my proto-feminist childhood self as Ernie’s Green Brains Didn’t Function).

To remember German prepositions, I have some songs and dances.

The ones that take accusative you sing to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (durch, fuer, gegen, ohne, um; ohne, um, ohne um; durch, fuer, gegen, ohne, um, nehmen akusative!) and the ones that take dative you sing to “The Blue Danube” (aus, ausser, bei, mit… NACH, ZEIT!  VON, ZU!).  (for the sticklers out there, these songs aren’t complete, but they are good enough for most uses)

I should remember righty-tightey, lefty-loosey when mounting towel racks.  It works much better that way.

Things to remember about horseback riding:  rise and fall with the leg on the wall (posting on the correct diagonal).  A Fat Bay Mare Can Hardly Ever Kick is the order of letters around the dressage ring, widdershins.  Wikipedia tells me that there is one that goes around clockwise as well, but that’s not the one we use.

Personality traits are OCEAN.  Great Lakes are HOMES.  I can’t remember what I made up for PV = nRT but it is pronounced like “pervnert”.

My students made up one to figure out what is valid and invalid in the propositional calculus.  Affirm Antecedent == always awesome!  Deny Antecedent == dead on arrival.  Affirm Consequent == awful choice!  Deny Consequent == definitely correct.

What are your favorite handy mnemonic devices?

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9 Responses to “Ask the Grumpies: Handy Mnemonic Devices”

  1. bardiac Says:

    My kingdom, phyllum one goes: King Phillip Came Over For Good Sex. Which is all the funnier when you think of the Spanish King Phillip who married Mary Tudor.

    FANBOYS: for coordinating conjunctions

    WHIPBOYS: in black letter printed text, a “2-R” comes after these letters (as opposed to the regular R that comes after the other letters).

    Some people know the cranial nerves via On Old Olympus Top (which I can’t remember), but I learned: O, O, O, to touch and feel a girl’s vagina, some heaven. (Unfortunately, sexist and weird, and one of the letters leads to a not as useful name as in the other.)

    And finally, not quite a mnemonic in the same sense, but Lear’s naughty daughters marry alphabetically. (So you can remember that Goneril married Albany and Regan married Cornwall.)

    Anapest is All the Best, but Anapest is a dactyl. (Anapest is a three beat meter with a stress on the last beat, but the word “anapest” is a three beat word with a stress on the first syllable, a meter called “dactyl.”)

  2. bogart Says:

    All King Victor Edward’s small horses can make really bloody, puny fights — which is the clockwise version of the dressage ring and includes the letters for the large ring (though the actual mnemonic makes no sense).

  3. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    I had the German-prepositions songs too! And I have a little rhyme that starts “Willy, Willy, Harry, Stee, Harry, Dick, John, Edwards three . . .” for the kings of England after the Conquest.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    I am no good at that stuff. I write everything down. :-)

  5. femmefrugality Says:

    The one that stuck with me the most was HOMES. I learned little songs for conjugating French verbs, but not mnemonics….

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    On old olympus’s towering tops, a finn and german vaulted a hedge.

  7. mareserinitatis Says:

    Concur on the point that EE/CS have the worst ones. Will have to compile a list when I’m more awake…

  8. Laura X (@newrambler) Says:

    I learned Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips for the treble clef (well, Every Good Boy Does Fine, too, but I like the former better). Roy G. Biv for the colors of the rainbow. There’s one for the order of the planets in one of Heinlein’s novels that starts Mother Very Thoughtfully (Mars, Venus, Terra), but I can’t remember the rest, which suggests that it’s not the best mnemonic I ever met.


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