Definition of Mnemonic

A mnemonic is a technique to save or retrieve memory in humans. Derived from the Greek word “mnemonikos,” mnemonic means related to memory like its Grecian root. It is related to Mnemosyne which means remembrance. Its derivation is the goddess of memory in Grecian mythology. However, the origin of both words is “mneme” which also means memory or remembrance. Hence, it is related to the art of memory or something that helps in keeping things or data in memory. In other words, it is an aid used as a tool to remember some abstract or tangible idea, a poem, or even some facts.

In literary and linguistics, a mnemonic is a device that helps learn something. It also aids in retaining information and knowledge in the memory and later assists in easy retrieval of the information. For retention and retrieval, mnemonics mean to use coding, clues, images, and other such signs that help the mind retain information and retrieve when required. These aids become associative helpers in the retrieval system. The use of mnemonics is widespread in almost every other field including music, the naming of things, meanings, and literary classics. They include music mnemonics, name mnemonics, model mnemonics, and even image mnemonics.

Examples of Mnemonic in Literature

Example #1

“Divorced, Beheaded and Died” by Anonymous

Divorced, beheaded and died.
Divorced, beheaded, survived.
I’m Henry VIII, I had six sorry wives.
Some might say I ruined their lives.

Existing in the public domain, this rhyme created by some anonymous poet shows the use of mnemonics through different words. It shows that the fates of the wives of Henry VIII who became famous for sending his wives to gallows. In fact, these mnemonics make it easy to remember the names of his wives. Although there are other sentences to remember the names of his wives, this stanza shows that the first was divorced, the second was beheaded and the third died until the sixth survived after the fourth and fifth also got separated through divorce and beheading. Another popular sentence about this mnemonic is, A Big Secret Conceals Heart Past.

Example #2

From The Book of Lost Names by Kristina Harmel

“I’ve always loved math. You see, the Fibonacci sequence starts with the number one, then the number one again. Add those numbers together to get two. Then add one and two together to get three. Two and three make five. Three and five make eight. And the series continues like that, adding the two previous numbers to get the following number. Do you understand?” Eva squinted at him. “I understand the math. But I don’t understand what this has to do with an old book.”
He grinned. “Stay with me, Eva. Now, continue the sequence, if you will.” “Rémy…” “Just trust me.” She sighed, feeling as if she were back in l’école primaire, being given a surprise quiz in mathematics. “Very well. One, one, two, three, five, eight, thirteen, twenty-one, thirty-four…” She trailed off.

This passage occurs in the novel, The Book of Lost Names, by Christian Harmel. It beautifully explains the numerical mnemonic that Eva Traube Abrams invented when living in Paris and helping the Jewish orphans and other children to cross the borders to safety. This passage shows how she develops this system with her male counterpart, Mr. Remy, and teaches him how to use it.

Example #3

Order of Planets Mnemonics

Although the origin of this sentence is not clear, it has been used to show the name of the planets. The sentence goes thus; “My very easy method just speeds up naming planets.” It means that if you use every initial letter of the word for every planet, you will get the exact order of the planet in which they revolve around the sun. However, after Pluto got excluded from it in 2006, it is still the same but without it.

Example #4

Taxonomic Mnemonic

In biological studies, the taxonomy of species often tests memories due to the number of different classes and different names. Therefore, students and teachers have devised a mnemonic to remember these. This mnemonic is in a sentence “Kids prefer cheese over friend green spinach” in which every initial letter of every word representant a class such as k stands for a kingdom, p stands for phylum, c stands for class, o stands for order, f stands for family, g stands for genus, and s stands for species.

Example #5

Vowel Mnemonics and Conjunction

The linguists have developed mnemonics for the students to learn vowel sounds. For short vowels, the sentence “That Pen is not much good” is very good as it comprises all six short vowels. For the long vowels, the sentence is “Pay may we all go too?” which has all the six long vowels. Similarly, for remembering conjunctions where a comma is placed, the grammarians have developed a mnemonic, FANBOYS, that represents For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet and So.

Functions of Mnemonic

Mnemonic plays an important role in everyday life including literature. In education, their function is very important as they are a powerful tool to help strengthen memory, creating more memory games through visual and auditory or numerical mnemonics. Specifically, in the case of dyslexic children, mnemonics help create different sentences to assist the students having normal intelligence to learn difficult concepts. They also widen the imagination of the children which helps them not only learn stories but also learn different scientific and general concepts and ideas. Besides, they stimulate sensory imagination and help retain and retrieve information. In the case of literature, mnemonics are used in different stories and poems to help students learn grammatical as well as other abstract concepts hard to learn otherwise.