Mnemonics, as a word, is no advert for English spelling. And English spelling most certainly needs help. What’s the point of that silent M at the start? (Blame the Greeks. Their spelling isn’t easy either.)
English spelling (and pronunciation) may well be the world’s worst. How many students, trying to learn English as a foreign language, have been flummoxed by:
through, thorough, cough, enough, hiccough, sough, dough?
I often have problems with words where changing the spelling changes the meaning: practise/practice and the like. The spellchecker is no help to me with that, of course.
My regular bugbear is affect/effect. I have to stop to work out which is correct when I’m writing.
The Oxford Dictionary tells me that affect and effect are quite different in meaning, though frequently confused. (A statement of the bleedin’ obvious?)
Affect is primarily a verb meaning “to make a difference to”, as in “their gender need not affect their career”. Effect, on the other hand, is used both as a noun and a verb, meaning “a result” as a noun, or “to bring about a result” as a verb.
But — like Baldrick — I have a cunning plan, provided by Dame Isadora. Thanks to Pedantique-Ryter, I don’t have to go back to the dictionary to work out which spelling to use.
Pedantique-Ryter Tip: Use Mnemonics to get spelling rightTo get affect/effect right, I use the
mnemonic RAVEN which stands for
Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun.
And yes, I do know that effect can also be a verb, but it’s usually the noun that confuses me, so this mnemonic really helps. Of course, it only works if you know the difference between nouns and verbs.
But I’m sure you do.
You read Dame Isadora too, don’t you?
(Hint: it’s in this Pedantique-Ryter blog.)
Mnemonics for remembering lists
Mnemonics are very useful for remembering lists of things, too, especially if you’re going to be involved in quizzes and the like. I don’t do them much myself but I do yell at the TV when University Challenge is on. (I don’t yell at Only Connect though; I’m useless at that.)
Some of the mnemonics are great fun. What about these:
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (Colours of the Rainbow)
So why turn 6 into 7 by dividing purple? It seems Newton declared Indigo and Violet to be separate parts of the spectrum because 7 was a mystic number.
Newton was a great pioneer of science but he was also into the occult and alchemy.
Close up, the colours in the rainbow are infinite, scientists tell us.
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (Order of the planets, including Pluto)
if you prefer the latest science that excludes Pluto from the list of planets, change Nine Pizzas to Noodles in the mnemonic. (Educated Mother serving Noodles? Proper ones, I fervently hope, rather than the Pot Noodles that students are rumoured to live on. And Nine pizzas? Nine?)
Do you have a favourite mnemonic? This is my favourite among the list mnemonics, because it conjures up such a vivid picture. (Also because it’s so useful for University Challenge.)
Here He Lies Beneath Bed Clothes, Nothing On, Feeling Nervous. Naughty Maggie Always Sighs, ”Please Stop Clowning Around” (Symbols for first 18 elements of the Periodic Table)
- H Hydrogen
- He Helium
- Li Lithium
- Be Beryllium
- B Boron
- C Carbon
- N Nitrogen
- O Oxygen
- F Fluorine
- Ne Neon
- Na Sodium
- Mg Magnesium
- Al Aluminium
- Si Silicon
- P Phosphorus
- S Sulphur
- Cl Chlorine
- Ar Argon
Alternatively, you could always learn the song of the elements by Tom Lehrer which is even more fun and includes all the elements in the table that were known when he wrote it in 1959. It’s sung to the tune of the Major-General’s Song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.
Lehrer’s elements aren’t in the order of the periodic table, but you can’t have everything, can you? He does manage to get through all his 102 elements in less than 90 seconds. He doesn’t even run out of breath before the end — nearly, but not quite — as you can hear on this archive recording.
Do you have a favourite mnemonic to add to mine? Please share. We need their help 😉