Science mnemonics

xkcd has presented some science mnemonics. I haven’t used mnemonics for any of these (I know the planets in order) but I did have my own for taxonomy, “King Put Cats On Fat Granny’s Stoop”.  Some of the ones in the cartoon are unwieldy, but I do like the Katy Perry one, which I might use instead of my old one.

Then there’s the old one that is, I recall, in Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, giving the order of the twelve cranial nerves: “On Old Olympus’ Towering Top, A Fin And German Viewed Some Hops”. (The nerves: I. Olfactory II. Optic III. Oculomotor IV. Trochlear V. Trigeminal VI. Abducens VII. Facial VIII. Auditory (Vestibulocochlear) IX. Glossopharyngeal X. Vagus XI. Spinal Accessory XII. Hypoglossal.)

Do you have your own mnemonics, science or otherwise?

h/t: Hempenstein

83 Comments

  1. Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.

    Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me!

    • Shaokang
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Ah, yes. Roy G. Biv. Forgot about that one. Thanks for reminding me.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Do people really need a mnemonic to remember that orange comes between red and yellow?

    • Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Wow! Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me Right Now Sweetie — according to Ike Asimov, iirc.

      /@

  2. alexander
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    The astronomers use a nice one for the different types of stars in the Hertzsprung-Russel diagram:

    Oh be a fine girl, kiss me right now!

    Look at the x-axis in:
    http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/H/Hertzsprung-Russell+Diagram

  3. Shaokang
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The one we learned in school for resistor color codes was “Bad Beer Rots Out Your Gut But Vodka Goes Well.” I prefer the more risque one that our professor hinted at but never told us directly: “Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly.”

    • flounder99
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      The non-politically correct version was about “Black Boys” which I always remembered because the first b is black then brown.

      • Matt
        Posted June 19, 2017 at 12:36 am | Permalink

        My professor taught us
        Bad boys rape our young women behind victory garden walls.

        • Matt
          Posted June 19, 2017 at 12:37 am | Permalink

          Sorry, …our young girls…”

    • gluonspring
      Posted June 20, 2017 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      I read “Bad Boys Rape Only Young Girls But Violet Goes Willingly” ONCE in (I believe) a Radio Shack electronics book in a book store. I never owned the book nor saw this mnemonic again, but forty years on I am no closer to forgetting it than I was that day.

      This illustrates the power of transgressive speech/good mnemonics.

  4. philfinn7
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Mine was also for the cranial nerves, but only ten. Oh, oh, oh, to touch and feel a girl’s v….
    Sorry, I will get my hat and coat, and go now ..

    • steve
      Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      And whether they are sensory or motor or both:

      Some say marry money but my brother says big balls mean more

    • Posted June 19, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      Yes, in medical school we all learned the cranial nerves as “Oh, oh, oh, to touch and feel a virgin girl’s vagina seems heavenly.” Hard to forget that one. It needs to be a virgin to remember that the the auditory nerve is also called the vestibulocochlear nerve.

  5. Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    One mnemonic I remember well is Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. Unfortunately, now I can’t remember what the hell it is for.

    • Shaokang
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      It was for musical notes on the treble staff, wasn’t it? For notes on the lines (E, G, B, D, F), we were taught Every Good Boy Does Fine. For the notes between the lines (F, A, C, E), just remember FACE.

      • Taskin
        Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you are right. 🙂
        My favourite music ones are ‘All Cows Eat Grass’ for the bass clef spaces and ‘Freddy Can Go Down And Eat Breakfast’ for the order of sharps in a key signature. Freddy may have been made up by my teacher because I’ve never met anyone else who remembers it with that sentence.

        • Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          It doesn’t reverse for the flats. I remember being given the pair:

          Father Charles goes down and ends battle.
          Battle ends and down goes Charles’ father.

          • Taskin
            Posted June 18, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

            I learned those sentences later but since Freddy was first, that’s what I remember. The flats I remembered by spelling the word Bead followed by GCF. Bead-guh-cuff, silly I know, but it worked 🙂

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      The Moody Blues titled one of their albums “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”.

  6. Stuartg
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Mother Very Thoughtfully Made A Jelly Sandwich Under No Protest.

    T=Terra, A=Asteroids, P=our favourite dwarf Planet.

    Somewhat obsolete these days.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Tellus? “Terra” or “terrae” is a solar system bright terrain [ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/terra ].

      • Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Terra is Earth, especially in sf.

        /@

        • Posted June 19, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Except, for some reason, in the computer RPG _Might and Magic III_ – that confused me for a moment as a kid.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        E.E “Doc” Smith called Earth Tellus, and humans Tellurians, in his Lensman series. But otherwise the convention in Golden Age science fiction was Terra and Terrans.

  7. Shaokang
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh, crap, I just remembered another one. To remember oxidation & reduction, use OIL RIG. OIL RIG –> OiL RiG –> Oxidation Loses (electrons), Reduction Gains (electrons).

    • Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Oxidation Is Loss

      Reduction Is Gain

      So you don’t need to ignore the I’s.

      • Charles Phillips
        Posted June 19, 2017 at 2:57 am | Permalink

        Our chemistry teacher gave us
        Roman Catholics Often Abstain
        for reduction cathode, oxidation anode.
        I haven’t needed it in the thirty years since I learnt it but it is still there…

      • steve
        Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:24 am | Permalink

        Leo says Ger

        (lose an electron oxidation; gain an electron reduction)

        • Posted June 19, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          Yes, recently my five year old daughter said something (I don’t remember exactly what) and my wife and I both responded exactly in sync “Leo says Ger.” She looked at us like we were crazy and explaining that we were talking about oxidation and reduction didn’t help. Maybe in a few years…

  8. Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Well. I could use a few of them in school. If I edit them. A lot.

  9. Mark Joseph
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Besides Aunt Sally, in my algebra classes I usually suggest “Porcupines Eat Mud, Dirt, And Sand.”

    I also suggest that the students come up with their own.

  10. Posted June 18, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Not quite the same, but I had a shop teacher in high school explain the 4-stroke engine cycle as “suck squeeze bang blow”

  11. Stephen Barrett
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    This is the mnemonic I knew for planetary order: Man Very Early Made Jars Serve Useful Natural Purposes. Obviously, this predates Pluto’s demotion.

  12. Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    In British Columbia we teach BEDMAS for order of operations, and for taxonomy I was taught Kings Play Chess On Fine-Grained Sand.

    I still remember the mneumonic I learned in grade 3 for spelling Arithmetic (A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream).

  13. Terry Sheldon
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    The taxonomic mneumonic we were given was “King Philip Came Over For Green Stamps”. No way were the teachers going to use “Good Sex” in a small-town high school 40-odd years ago. On the other hand, nobody today knows what the hell Green Stamps were.

    • Doug
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      My high school zoology teacher (whose first name was Philip) taught us “King Philip Comes Of Fairly Good Stock.” Also, “Peter Piper Can Play New Easy Music And Arrange Chords” for the phyla: Protozoa, Porifera, Coelenterates, Platyhelminthes, Nematodes, Echinoderms, Mollusks, Annelids, Arthropods, Chordates. This was back in the 1970s; I think some of the classifications have been changed since then.

    • Doug
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      My high school zoology teacher (whose first name was Philip) taught us “King Philip Comes Of Fairly Good Stock.” Also, “Peter Piper Can Play New Easy Music And Arrange Chords” for the phyla: Protozoa, Porifera, Coelenterates, Platyhelminthes, Nematodes, Echinoderms, Mollusks, Annelids, Arthropods, Chordates. This was back in the 1970s; I think some of the classifications have been changed since then.

      • Doug
        Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        No idea why it posted twice.

      • Doug
        Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        No idea why it posted twice.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      So in your hometown they traded green stamps for good sex? Did the S&H Company know what was going on?

    • chris english
      Posted June 19, 2017 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      King Prawn Curry or fat Greasy Sausages?

    • Posted June 19, 2017 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      Mine was “King Phillip Cleans Our Filthy Gym Shorts.”

  14. Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    In writing functions for computer programs you should think through the process before writing it (functional design). The layout for a function is Header, Type contract, Description, Examples, Body, Tests, but the steps in the “thinking through” are Examples, Type contract, Header, Description, Body, Tests. I came up with the following 2 mnemonics when I was learning: “Horribly thoughtless dingoes eat baby turtles” and “Exotic terror hounds devour bitter teachers”.

  15. Carey Haug
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    From Howard Shane PhD teaching a class of nearly all female speech pathology students-Oh,oh,oh to touch and feel a girl’s vagina, ah heaven. Although deeply offensive to me at the time, it is catchier than old Olympus towering tops.

  16. Barney
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    The mnemonic for Geological Periods:
    Camels Ordinarily Sit Down Carefully; Perhaps Their Joints Creak.
    and then a switch to epochs:
    Possibly Early Oiling May Prevent Premature Rusting
    (last ‘R’ for ‘Recent’)

    • gscott
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      Campbell’s Onion Soup Develops Miss Pennsylvania Perfectly

  17. Michael Fisher
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Our history teacher encouraged us to learn this mnemonic verse, but I never did [I dug it out of Wiki], being ‘anti’ education as lists rather than ideas. Thus I performed very poorly in chemistry, biology, geography & history exams!

    [can be sung to “Good King Wenceslas”]

    Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee
    Harry, Dick, John, Harry three
    One, two, three Neds, Richard two
    Harrys four, five, six… then who?
    Edwards four, five, Dick the bad
    Harrys twain VII VIII[e] and Ned the Lad
    Mary, Bessie, James the Vain,
    Charlie, Charlie, James again…
    William and Mary, Anna Gloria,
    Four Georges I II III IV, William and Victoria

    Edward seven next, and then
    George the fifth in 1910
    Ned the eighth soon abdicated
    Then George the sixth was coronated
    After which Elizabeth
    And that’s the end until her death

    • Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Henry VI and Edward IV were both king twice. Also, you could technically include Matilda and Lady Jane Grey if you wanted. Also Henry II ruled jointly with his son for a while.

  18. bonetired
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I had an filthy, if memorable, one for remembering the base pairings in DNA/RNA:

    “Anthony Tickles Until Geraldine Comes”

  19. Posted June 18, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Many Elephants Pass By Public Houses

    methane

    ethane

    propane

    butane

    pentane

    hexane

    And other organic series

    • steve
      Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:30 am | Permalink

      For the first four since they are different than the other easier Latin prefixes:

      Methane Ethanne Propane Butane
      Monkeys Eat Peeled Bananas

  20. Hempenstein
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    The straight-chain dicarboxylic acids, as I learned from Frank Deis at Rutgers: Oh My, Such Good Apple Pie, Sweet As Sugar: Oxalic, Malonic, Succinic, Glutaric, Adipic, Pimelic, Suberic, Azelaic, Sebacic.

    And then from my old (and sadly late) friend David Oxley, who later became the Chief Medical Examiner of SW Virginia:

    Branches of the Facial Nerve
    Two Zebras Bit My Cock (which in polite company often goes by) To Zanzibar By Motor Car

    Temporal, Zygomatic, Buccal, Masseteric, Cervical

    More anatomical ones here.

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I never could be the hang of using pneumonics and just memorized things. Now that I’m older, I think I need them as no matter how many times I repeat things, they just don’t stick.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      The important thing with pneumonics is not to overinflate them.

    • Posted June 18, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Using “pneumonics” would be breathtaking!

      /@

  22. Zach
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a geography one I came up with years ago in Spanish class, for all the Spanish speaking countries in South America (roughly north to south):

    Vans (Venezuela)
    Can (Columbia)
    Easily (Ecuador)
    Pass (Peru)
    Bad (Bolivia)
    Cars (Chile)
    At (Argentina)
    Under (Uruguay)
    Passes (Paraguay)

  23. John Conoboy
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I created my own for geology time periods and still remember them 50 years later. CreJuTriPerPeMi was one. I bet many of you could figure it out?

  24. Posted June 18, 2017 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    My own: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle go into a spa (who is the teacher of whom).

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      soplar?

  25. E.A. Blair
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I seldom used mnemonics, ’cause I found the actual items at least as easy to memorize as the phrases, if not easier. The problems with the mnemonics was having to remember what each word stood for.

    In a college creative writing class, I wrote a story which took place at a computer company called “Menomonee Mnemonics of Menomonee Falls”.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 18, 2017 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I’m not really good with them either. I usually use odd tricks for remembering things that only make sense to me & my weird brain.

    • steve
      Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      Such as this one for the spelling of a not very difficult to spell word:

      “George Elliot’s old grandfather rode a pig home yesterday.”

  26. James Walker
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    The 1980s TV show “Square Pegs” (starring a very young Sarah Jessica Parker) contained an episode in which one character introduced a mnemonic to remember the names of the 5 US Presidents who preceded Nixon: Rough Tots Eat Kool Jello. For some reason this has stuck in my head ever since.

  27. Posted June 18, 2017 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    I learned both the clean and vulgar versions of the cranial nerves, perhaps in high school. Much later, when I taught human anatomy to medical students, I found it much easier to pick up (or visualize picking up) a brain, turning it over, and naming the cranial nerves by remembering where they were and what the did. When students asked me for a mnemonic for them, it was always more difficult to remember the mnemonic than identify the nerves directly. I also found it was much easier to name the branches of the facial nerve by knowing where they ran than remembering “two zebras bit my cookie (or cock)” and then trying to recall the actual names to associate with the mnemonic.

  28. Charles Phillips
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    The elements of the Periodic table (not all of them, obvs):
    Hard Hearted Little Beggar Boys Catch Newts Or Frogs Near Naples [then] Magnificent Albert Sings Pop Songs Clearly Around Kitchen Cabinets

    Thanks to Dr Williams (dec.) of Bishopston Comprehensive c1984.

    • Pete T
      Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:50 am | Permalink

      I will be forever grateful to an early chemistry teacher for “Libeb K’Nofney Nam Gal Sips Clar” which for some reason has stuck in my brain from that day 30 years ago to this.

  29. Joseph McClain
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    For resistor color codes, I learned Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly.

  30. Doug
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    “Sado-Masochists Hurt Every One.” That’s one I invented for remembering the Great Lakes from West to East.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted June 19, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      One of the few mnemonics I do remember (probably because it’s one word instead of a phrase): HOMES, which stands for (in no particular order) Huron, Michigan, Ontario, Erie, Superior. However, I have much less trouble visualizing a map, and that also gets me Lake St. Clair (which is a good lake, but not great).

  31. Steve Pollard
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    The first few digits of pi are given by the number of letters in each word of “How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics”.

    While I was looking up who invented this (Sir James Jeans), I came across this parody of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven:

    Poe, E.
    Near a Raven
    Midnights so dreary, tired and weary.
    Silently pondering volumes extolling all by-now obsolete lore.
    During my rather long nap – the weirdest tap!
    An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber’s antedoor.
    “This”, I whispered quietly, “I ignore”

    …and so on, apparently, for 740 places of pi! (But who could manage to use a mnemonic like that? And who would want to?)

  32. Lurker111
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    On Resistor Color Codes:

    Some of the color codes are incredibly hard to distinguish from neighborhood colors, especially at 3 in the morning under bad light.

    I’ve always maintained that if they can get 5 characters on a capacitor the size of a bedbug, they can print 3 digits on a resistor.

    😛

  33. Posted June 19, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Related, does anyone else know the _Biochemist’s Song Book_? I saw it for sale on Amazon.com years ago and bought it on a lark. (I’m no biochemist!)

  34. Mark Ayling
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Another one-word aide-memoire.

    To remember the phase relationships for reactive components – capacitors (C) and inductors (L):

    CIVIL

    C I before V, V before I L

  35. Posted June 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Oh, one just came to me, from biology:

    C HOPKINS CaFé Mg (mighty good)

    But I can’t remember why this list of elements is particularly important …

    /@

    • Posted June 19, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Ant: maybe because they are elements that are abundant in living things: Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iodine, Nitrogen, Sulfur, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium.

  36. karaktur
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Strings on a standard guitar: Everyone Asks Did God Beget Evil.

  37. Posted June 20, 2017 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    While that last one, about planetary order, is otherwise great, it doesn’t really work – in that it doesn’t help anyone confused about the order of the final two planets. “Neighbour upstairs” makes just as much sense as “upstairs neighbour”

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 20, 2017 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      @spleneticenthusiasm No it doesn’t make as much sense either way – the planetary order has been “upstairs neighbour” for a billion years or more…

      URANUS: 84 year orbit @ 20 au ave. distance from Sol

      NEPTUNE: 165 year orbit @ 30 AU
      [1 au = Sol to Earth distance, almost]

      There never is an occasion when Neptune orbits closer to Sol than Uranus. I suppose you are thinking of the ‘dwarf planet’ & Trans-Neptunian Object, Pluto which is closer to Sol than Neptune less than 1% of the time 🙂

      • Posted June 20, 2017 at 1:59 am | Permalink

        Michael – I think spleneticenthusiasm meant that the mnemonic makes sense, in English, either way, and so isn’t useful for remembering the correct order of the outer two planets, which is indeed long established.

        /@

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:10 am | Permalink

          Ah ha!

          You are both saying…

          Mary’s “Virgin” Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbour

          and

          Mary’s “Virgin” Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Neighbour Upstairs

          both make grammatical sense & thus it’s a poor mnemonic.

          Thank you. And spleneticenthusiasm, I apologise for being thicker than usual – I’m in pre-shower & coffee 50% IQ mode, but even so I should have read your post more carefully. Sorry.


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