Once children reach school age, teachers offer many ways to remember content. While never a fan of mnemonics, I am a fan of words. And, there are a few of these word tricks that stand out from childhood.
My first example has to do with learning music. Introduced to the world of notes, scales, clefs and octaves with Orff instruments in third grade, one of the first mnemonics I remember is Every Good Boy Does Fine. Of course this stands for the notes on the treble clef staff, E, G, B, D, and F. Although useful for learning the notes on the staff, once learned and music is produced, I never had much use for this particular mnemonic. However, I obviously remember what it means, almost 40 years after learning the saying.
The second recollection of mnemonics I have come from science class. Here exists the following:
ROY G. BIV – Is this a person? No. It stands for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet or the colors of the rainbow or that on a prism spectrum. Still remembered, still useful today.
My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas, is an old mnemonic for remembering the order of the planets. Now, since Pluto’s demotion, I believe for some it has been changed to end with the word noodles. I did not recall exactly what this mnemonic was word for word and had to look it up. Honestly, just memorizing the planets in order did the trick for me.
And, therein lies is some of the problem with the use of mnemonics. I always found it interesting and less than useful to have to learn one thing to remember another, instead of just memorizing the thing you needed to learn in the first place.
But, having been a former nurse and advanced practice nurse practitioner, mnemonics were popularly employed in the health care and medical field for memory aids. One of my first jobs as a nurse was in the neonatal intensive care unit. There, I had to learn what an APGAR score meant as I used to have to run to the delivery room for any high risk deliveries. In the mnemonic A= Appearance, P=Pulse, G=Grimace, A= Activity, R=Respiration. APGAR scores indicate the “health” or status of the infant upon delivery and their adjustment to life outside the mother’s womb. They are done at one and five minutes, respectively, with the highest score being a “10”. As you can imagine, in many of the deliveries I attended, the infant received low APGAR scores for a variety of reasons. This is a mnemonic I used almost every day in the first five years of my nursing career. Today, many moms will report and/or record their babies APGAR scores but few really know what the mnemonic stands for in meaning.
Another maternal child nursing mnemonic is TORCH. This stands for a series of infectious diseases that can have ill or even fatal effects on the newborn infant. Somewhat odd to this mnemonic is that the “TO” together stand for one disease, Toxoplasmosis. Then, R is Rubella, C stands for CMV or Cytomegalovirus, and H is for Herpes. Again, an important mnemonic, but if you do not use it, you lose its meaning.
PEMDAS is a well know mnemonic used in middle school mathematics to remind students of the order of operations. Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction. Again, probably useful to get you going but after you know how to do more complex problems, the use of the mnemonic is most likely forgotten.
And, there is lies much of the problem, many mnemonics are so specific, unless you are involved in using them on a daily basis or they were ingrained during a formative time in your development, you lose what they stand for in meaning. Likewise, most people do not go around speaking in mnemonics, even to those in their same discipline. I only know healthcare mnemonics or elementary education mnemonics, not mnemonics for physics or climatology or oceanography or anything else in which the content would be foreign to my knowledge base. And, so it is probably much the same for others. You know what you know because you have to use it. Mnemonics might be a trick to trigger your memory but one that will only last as long as it is used. I just always found it more useful to memorize the fact and not the trick.
How useful have you found mnemonics in your life?
Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Mnemonic