Wednesday, 03 August, 2005

Using mnemonic devices

I'm about halfway through a book called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Improving Your Memory.  I bought it half on a lark just because the title made me chuckle, but I really am interested in improving my recall.  The first half of the book (the part I've read) is a discussion of the brain, how memory works, different kinds of memories, and other related topics.  I guess the idea is that the authors are laying the groundwork so that we can better understand how the techniques that they describe in the second half of the book actually work.  I'll see in the next few days as I move into that part of the text.

I did look ahead a few chapters and found that their first technique has to do with mnemonics.  That got me to thinking of different mnemonic devices I've used through the years to remember things.  The one that comes immediately to mind is ROY G. BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet): the colors of the rainbow.  Others are in the form of stories.  For example, I remembered the formula for sulphuric acid with this little rhyme:

What Sally drank she'll drink no more, for what she thought was H2O was H2SO4.

Mnemonic devices are good for remembering longer things, too.  When I was earning my Aviation merit badge in Boy Scouts we had to memorize the International Phonetic Alphabet.  A handful of us came up with a story to help us remember:

Alpha said Bravo to Charlie in Delta who heard an Echo and saw a Foxtrot across a Golf course at a Hotel in India.  Juliet walked ten Kilos to Lima.  Mike died in November.  Oscar, his Papa, lives in Quebec.  Romeo lives in the Sierras and does a Tango in his Uniform.  Victor drank Whiskey and took X-rays while watching the Yankees play the Zulus.

It's nonsense, but it worked.  I even used it to help some of my classmates at the Air Force Academy learn the ITU phonetics.  And I still remember it more than 30 years later.

You can find mnemonics all over the Web.  Search Google for "mnemonic favorite" and browse the results.