Remembering Mnemonics – Old and New
I have always been fond of mnemonic devices, those little sentences or images that help you remember things that may or may not be important.
In 8th grade Science class we were taught how to remember the difference between “rotate” and “revolve.” The teacher had us all stand and put a finger on the top of our head. We would then rotate on our own axis. While doing that, we would walk in a circle, revolving around the room. One reason this was effective was that any classroom task that gets 8th graders out of their desks and moving will be memorable.
Then there was the mnemonic sentence to help you remember the order of the planets. “Many Very Early Men Ate Juicy Steaks Using No Plates,” which stood for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. Sadly, this one no longer works, as we have added a planet, dropped one, and changed the order. ….but I can’t recall the new arrangement.
I used one in teaching English to get across the proper use of the comma. I would have the students stand and walk around the room saying “comma” and then slapping their own butt. Not another’s butt! This taught that a comma is almost always placed before the word “but.” I cannot think of an example where it is not. My wife borrowed this one for her elementary students, and of course I borrowed the stand up and move idea from my 8th grade science teacher.
There are hundreds of examples, but here are two I invented all by myself.
“When the helmet drops, the bullshit stops.” I used to say this every time I put on my crash helmet, to remind myself that riding a motorcycle requires all of your attention, all of the time. There is no room for contemplating what is going on at work, or the bills to be paid, or the joys (hopefully many) or sorrows (hopefully rare) of married life. I still do this today, although it is usually only a thought and I do not say it aloud. This one you can find in Wikipedia under motorcycle safety, as I used it in my book Motorcycle 201.
My other mnemonic I have never seen used by anyone else. In 1998, I took on a part time job with Doug’s Lynnwood Mazda, which became the prototype effort for my full-time career in motorsports from 2000 – 2013. In both cases I was required to hop into a car or motorcycle, often on short notice, that I had never experienced before. I began to wear some sort of driving gloves for each occasion, to remind myself that I was now operating a vehicle that was not mine and that might be quite valuable (such as a Hummer or a newer Miata or Mazda truck) and I needed to focus. Particularly if I was on a rally or in a drag race or some other activity that involved aggressive driving. Of course with motorcycles I was wearing gloves anyway (because I am not stupid), but the act of pulling on the gloves was still a good reminder. Often I was to ride a motorcycle such as a Honda Valkyrie that I had never ridden before and then take part in a club event where everyone else was riding that bike and most of them were highly experienced with that bike, as in relatively fast. I did not crash any of the 600 or so cars and motorcycles I drove, rode, or raced in that time, and the glove and helmet mnemonics were an assist, I believe.
That is why in some of the posted pictures from the “Gambler 500” rally of last weekend you will see me wearing “driving gloves.” They are actually just golf gloves, but they do the task of helping me focus. Alas, they could not prevent me from finding a sharp rock or ten on the rough trails the organizers had presented as “roads.” One of them slashed the right front tire of the Volvo wagon I was driving, and then a second one I never saw did in the replacement. With “only,” two spares, we had to retire from the dirt portions of the event.
In any case, mnemonics work. What’s your favorite?
Copyright 2016 David Preston