Friday, January 05, 2007

Johnny Mnemonic

Guangzhou, China

The sillier the mnemonic, the easier it is to remember, someone told
me in grade school.

The advice served me well in seventh grade biology. "Kinky Peter
called out fat Gertrude Steinman." That would be the taxonomical
hierarchy of Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species.

The memorization device worked in law school, too. "Naughty cookies
take ample arthritis medicine." When determining whether or not to
certify a case as a class action, a federal judge looks at various
factors, including the Number of plaintiffs, the Common issues of fact
and law, the Typicality of the lead plaintiffs, whether the court can
fashion relief which would Address the plaintiffs' grievances, the
Adequacy of class counsel, and the Manageability of the case if

Medical school spawned a famous mnemonic for the twelve cranial
nerves. "On old Olympus' towering top, a Finn and German viewed some
hops." The phrase isn't particularly silly, but, due to its fame,
most medical students know their cranial nerves before the first day
of class. (A lesser-known, and sillier, medical mnemonic lists the
bones in the wrist. "Never lower Tillie's panties; mother might come

Creating those mnemonics was probably easy sailing; they're based on
Latinate words beginning with common Roman letters. This week, I
tried to memorize the Chinese empires, so I would have a frame of
reference as books and articles made casual references to the Sui
Dynasty. (As journalist Jasper Becker reports in his book The
Chinese, "Only in China can one interview an official charged with
civil service reforms who, in describing these reforms, recalls how
officials of the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) dealt with the problem
of nepotism.").

Over a long dinner of real Cantonese food – which bears only passing
resemblance to anything served under that name in the United States –
this is the best I could come up with:

"X-rated shinola zooms quickly, haunting Jenny South, seeking to sing
yet more quietly."

Starting in 2205 B.C, the 13 Chinese dynasties were: the Xia, the
Shang, the Zhou, the Qin, the Han, the Jin, the South-North, the Sui,
the Tang, the Song, the Yuan, the Ming and the Qing, which collapsed
in 1912. Some of these dynasties had discreet sub-dynasties, but
that's a problem for another day.

If you come up with a better mnemonic, I'd love to read it in the comments.



Anonymous holtz said...


I haven't come up with a better mnemonic yet, but I did contrive one in high school to remember the order of the planets relative to Earth. MEVEM J SUN P (Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto). It seems to me that simply taking the first letters of the thing you are trying to remember and stringing them together into a word (whether it is an actual word or a concocted one that with repetition you are able to commit to memory) is easier than making up a sentence and then having to work backwards from the sentence to remember the thing you we trying to remember in the first place.

I am reluctant to confess that when I received your message on December 26 I was in fact on my way home from work. I certainly did not intend any disrespect to the memory of Mao Tse Tung, but I doubt Judge Jaqueline Connor in Santa Monica would have accepted the excuse that my oppositions to the defendants' summary judgment motions were a day late because I counted Mao Tse Tung's birthday as a court holiday.

9:46 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home