What are mnemonics and why should I care?

I looked them up: mne·mon·ics (pronounced) nəˈmäniks is a noun — or more typically, a set of words that are designed to help you remember something. Like the strings on a guitar or ukulele, for example. I used to know them but I can’t remember them at all. Literally, they are gone from my brain.

Over all, I’ve found it harder to remember the mnemonic than the original thing I was trying to remember and these days, writing it down helps more than any other thing possibly could. At one point, when I was — maybe 10 give or take a year? — my parents bought “The Lorayne Memory Book.” Assuming you could master it, you were supposed to be able to remember anything by creating mnemonics for a huge variety of sounds that you could mentally link together to form words.

My mother read it, did a mental “screw that nonsense” and handed it to me.

“The Memory Book has 1469 ratings and 102 reviews. … Unleash the hidden power of your mind through Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas’s simple, fail-safe memory system, and you can become more effective, more imaginative, and more ….. Everyone who took those classes always got A’s automatically — it was a guarantee.” from Goodreads

“Maybe you can do something with this,” she said.

I got through the first chapter in where you create a mental image of each item in a list and you link it mentally with the previous image. So, say you want to go shopping. You need: bananas, coffee, cream, butter, bread, English muffins, strawberry jelly, chicken parts, and bread crumbs. I’m trying to keep it simple using the basic stuff people shop for rather than making it unnecessarily complicated.

So you look at the first two items: bananas and coffee and you create some strange image that mentally shows you these two items together. Maybe a coffee bean eating a banana. See the image? A little odd, but that’s the point. Then add the cream and have the bean that ate the banana bathe in a tub of cream, while rubbing it’s hair (hair? do coffee beans have hair?) with butter, then rolling around on a slice of (toasted?) bread …

You get the idea, right? Bizarre though it sounds, I managed to do it and after a little practice, I could memorize a list of maybe 20 to 30 items and I could remember them forwards and backwards. But it wasn’t easier than writing it on a piece of paper and wracking your brain for these images was significantly more effort that pulling the paper out of your pocket and reading it.

I never made it to the actual “mnemonic” part of the course which were in chapters two through 20 (or something like that) because it seemed like a lot more effort than it deserved. I could easily understand my mother’s “screw that shit” reaction and eventually, the “Lorayne Memory Course” hit the dust bin with all the other good ideas that we never used.

So how do I feel about mnemonics? I’m sure they must help someone somewhere but I lump this stuff into the giant trash compactor of great ideas whose time will never come — at least not for me. If the solution to the problem is more complicated than the original problem, what exactly is the point? My goal in problem solving is to strip away the complexity and find the uncomplicated middle — the simple center, as it were. When that doesn’t work, usually because there is no simple center, I’m pretty sure mnemonic isn’t going to fix it either.

Or, as the guy said in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” 1962, John Ford starring everybody you love to see in old westerns:

“No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

You can be sure they didn’t bother with mnemonics. Just print the legend!

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.


    1. The thing about mnemonics (I had to look it up because i didn’t remember what it meant, either) is that they are more complicated than the thing you are supposed to remember. So first you have to remember the mnemonic … THEN whatever it was you were trying to recall? That’s double the memory space and my memory space is teeny tiny these days! I print the legend.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. CARLETON YOUNG, the very pushy editor of the Shinbone Star in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

        When he crashed Tom Doniphon’s funeral, demanding a story, “the people’s right to know”, Jimmy Stewart shudda given him a story, “Liberty Valance” style.


  1. I always found them to be an unnecessary complication. But I’ve learned that there are a lot of different kinds of minds in this world and MOST minds think THEIR way is the way EVERYONE learns. That’s been my experience working with other teachers, anyway. My 2nd grade teacher insisted (ha ha) we learn all these mnemonic devices and the only one I remember is like a prison to me, the spelling of arithmetic. There were others like “there is a rat” in separate (that’s useful) but the others? We were tested on the mnemonic devices rather than the words… That was messed up.


    1. I think this is all “whatever works for you” stuff. For me, it’s “key words.” I still use key words, though I use more of them than I used to. Sometimes, I need a whole sentence. Mnemonics don’t really work for me. These days, remembering ANYTHING is a big deal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. For me, I’d (for grocery shopping for ex.) picture the aisles and what was on them and write my grocery list accordingly, starting with the entrance (going down the meat and zig zag up and down each aisle and write the list accordingly and if I didn’t require that particular aisle, I left it off the list. Made grocery shopping a breeze. I tried your name is Pool (puddle of water) I’d call you puddle. So I gave up on the whole thing lmao. Perhaps I’m just not smart enough….snicker loudly.


    1. I wrote things on sticky notes which I had all over my office. i didn’t need a whole lot of words, just one or two key words. I guess rather than mnemonics, I used “keys.” I think it’s essentially the same concept. It just worked better for me. However — if it was something I needed to remember for longer than a couple of days, i had to write it out or I’d lose it.


  3. Until your post, I had forgotten all about this and have actually known a few people who used it. It always seemed too much trouble and I often tried patiently not to roll my eyes when anyone mentioned using that method giiving it a high recommendation. Geeze Louise, I never want to work that hard! Pen and paper…tada! lol


    1. Some people actually find it easier. I think it’s all a matter of how each of us thinks. I find the mnemonics harder to remember than the original information, but memory is such an individual think. I used to be able to remember massive amounts of detailed information — for a limited time. I can’t do that anymore. Now, I’m glad if I don’t forget what I’m doing while I’m doing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder if my sixth grade teacher read that book… because he chose to amaze us one day by having us all choose words at random until we had a list of 20. And then he recited every one of them back to us in order… and told us the trick was pretty much what you described up there. Find a way to link the words together through some kind of association between their order in the list. My brain can come up with some weird associations between two things, but never on demand… so attempting something like this would be impossible for me.


    1. A lot of people read the book, so why not? It has been in print for like 60 years and I think the kid took over the franchise, so there are a lot MORE books.

      I couldn’t do it anymore. When you are 10, memory isn’t something you have to search for. It’s right there. These days, I have a 30 second attention span, after which … whoosh. Gone.


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