Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 10, 2009

Memory joggers

A few days ago, our cat Cookie jumped on daughter Katie's lap and started purring.

"Why is it that cats are the only family of animals that purrs?" Katie asked.

Husband Art launched into a discussion about some of the scientific theories involved, but I went off on a different tangent.

"King Phillip Came Over From Germany Sidesaddle," I said.

Katie and Art looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

"You know - Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species," I said. "One of my teachers gave us the 'King Phillip' thing to help us learn how to classify animals and plants from the most general category to the most specific. When Katie said 'family of animals,' it reminded me of that."

From there, our conversation turned to other memory joggers we have learned.

"A pint's a pound the world around," Art offered. "My junior high science teacher suggested that one to recall the weight of water."

"Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE," Katie chimed in, explaining how she learned the musical notes on the lines and spaces of the treble clef.

Before long, we were singing "Do-Re-Mi" from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "The Sound of Music." In the story, the song is used by Maria to teach the notes of the major musical scale to the Von Trapp children.

Oldest daughter Mariya said one of her teachers helped her class memorize a song to help them remember the seven continents.

Katie said a teacher gave them "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" to help them identify the nine planets - Mercury Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. This was, of course, before Pluto was demoted from planet status.

"But I made up one I liked better," she said. "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets. That just makes more sense."

Art added that he remembers the order of the colors of the visual spectrum, and, therefore, a rainbow, from "ROY-G-BIV" - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

The phrase "May I have a large container of coffee?" allows a person to recall the mathematical number for pi to eight digits by just counting the number of letters in each word.

When setting the table, knowing that the words "left" and "fork" both have four letters reminds us that the fork goes on the left side of the plate. The knife and spoon, both with five letters, go on the right - which also has five letters.

These are examples of what are called mnemonic ("neh-mon-ik") devices. Common ones are short poems or special words to help a person remember something. Mnemonics are based on the perception that the human mind remembers spatial, personal, surprising, humorous, or rhyming information more easily than arbitrary sequences.

The word mnemonic is derived from the Ancient Greek word mnemonikos ("of memory") and is related to Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory in Greek mythology.

Art often teases me that I don't remember things on my shopping list or computer procedures unless I write them down. Sometimes when I'm driving down the road and realize I failed to bring my list along, I make up my own memory jogger.

"I have to get three 'C' things and two 'M' things," I tell myself. "cheese, Cheerios, chips, milk and mayonnaise." Then I repeat "C-C-C-M-M" until I get to the store. These aren't quite as catchy as the others, but they seem to work for me!

And the next time I need to turn a screw, I'll just think, "Righty tighty, lefty loosy."

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