Mnemonics as a Memory Device

Mnemonics Have Been Used For Thousands of Years

The use of mnemonics as a memory device began with the ancient Greeks, Romans, Pythagoreans or, maybe the Egyptians.  Authors do not always agree about exactly which culture began to use simple words, phrases, letters, poems or visual aids to remember more difficult things.

Mnemonics As a Memory Aide

Mnemonics as a Memory Tool

Some of the most common devices are words in which the letters are representative of something else.  For example, Roy G Biv is a mnemonic for the seven colors of the rainbow; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.  Scientists are not sure why it is easier for a person to remember the name, rather than the list of colors.

Another well-known mnemonic is the one used to remember the order of scientific classifications in zoology.  In the sentences “Keep pond clean or frogs get sick” and “King Penguins congregate on frozen ground sometimes”, the first letters of each word correspond with the first letters, in the same order, of the zoology terms “kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species”.

Historically, the ability to remember complicated things, such as is necessary for higher learning, has been considered an “art”.  It is believed that people have natural memory, which allows them to remember things like how to brush their teeth or feed themselves.  Using mnemonics as a memory device allows them to remember more complex things, lists, tables, graphs and names.

Most authors agree that the first description of using imagery to recall things is recited in the story of Simonides of Ceos.  Being the only surviving guest at a large banquet in which the other guests were crushed beyond recognition by a collapsed roof, Simonides was able to help with the identification of the bodies by recalling where each guest was seated.

Today, many memory specialists suggest that a person can memorize complicated things by visualizing a walk through a well-known building and “placing” specific items in each room.  In some cases, the memory device seems more complicated than standard memorization.

Mnemonics as a memory device sometimes work better than other techniques, but it all depends on the person.  But, to say that one’s ability to recall or remember is “bad” is inaccurate.  Anyone can improve their ability to remember.

Some people have trouble remembering dates or people’s names.  Most of us have run into the situation where the face is familiar, but the name eludes us.  One suggestion for remembering people’s names is to associate it with something more memorable.

While mnemonics, as a memory device, do not take the place of basic memorization, it is certainly a valuable tool to have in your toolbox.  If you want to improve your ability to recall facts or important lists, try using mnemonics.  It just might work for you.

Additional Mnemonics Resources

Nine Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory

Large Collection of Mnemonics

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