Tuesday, January 30, 2007


The other night Steve was reading a news article that used the word "genera," and he paused and asked me to translate. (My husband is a brilliant man, and writes much more skillfully than he would lead you to believe, but math/science is still his forte and English is mine :) In context, I could tell it was the plural of "genus," and in making a quick explanation, I said, "It's the word genus--you know, like..." Thinking out loud, I rattled off, "Kittens Pee 'Cause Odile Finds....eh, something, something. Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. You know, the classification of animals and plants."

You may be wondering what kittens peeing has to do with anything, and who in the world Odile is. It's the beauty of mnemonic devices. When I was in ninth grade biology, I had a friend who LOVED cats. Her name in French class was Odile. And thus, somehow in the warped minds of high school freshmen, a ridiculous sentence for memorizing animal classification was born. Hey, it works--even if I don't remember the last two words.

We were first introduced to mnemonics in sixth grade, where we learned from our math teacher that Kellie Martin and Her Mother Drove A Mercedes to Millers and bought Dog Meal, Cat Meal and Mouse Meal (the metric system) and from our social studies teacher that HE (some anonymous Central American driver) Nicked-a-Car and Coasted to Panama (geography: the locations of Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama).

The social studies teacher was especially adept at these. We spent the year learning world geography to the point that by the end of the year, we could draw--from memory--North and South America, Europe and parts of Asia. How else would this have been possible except by knowing that Yugoslavia is shaped like a Yugo car, and that Switzerland's border trickles down over Italy like melted Swiss cheese? Half of it useless now, of course, after the Communist countries broke up, but that's beside the point.

Of course, the devices aren't always so effective. When we were seniors, a group of us routinely spent the last ten minutes of our fifth period class together cramming frantically for our sixth period government class. We were fond of mnemonic devices--the more bizarre, the better. But although I can tell you that "Little Purple Stones Cover Jungle Floors," I have no idea what that means anymore, just that it has something to do with constitutional principles. My brain retained it for just enough time to spit it out for the exam. And I know we had a great one for the Bill of Rights, but it has long since escaped me. Alas, no method is infallible.

So there ya go--you learned something today. I guess it's Random Week here at Lavender Sparkles--just miscellaneous brain clutter, dumped with love from me to you :)

What were your favorite mnemonic devices in school--not the standard ones we all learned (My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas) but the ones you and your brilliant friends made up?


Anonymous said...

I always wished that my teachers had taught those more. I guess since my school was pretty upscale/posh, they weren't going to give us an easy way to learn anything. Thanks a lot! We were one of the top schools in the nation while I was there, so I guess that counts for something :)

Amanda said...

To the tune of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" my fourth grade friends and I learned the bones from top down: "Skull, Mandible, Vertebre, Clavicle...skull, mandible, vertebre, clavicle...scapula and sternum, ribs and humerus"...

Oh, the shame. And the wasted brain space.

Amy said...

isn't it sad to think of what our brains choose to store in the permanent file...and all the things they let slip that we wish were permanent??

Anonymous said...

My Biology teacher last semester taught us "Kings Play Chess on Fine Grain Sand"... (the whole classification thing...very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I think it was our science curriculum this year that used King Phillip Cried Out For Goodness Sake. for classification. Sure helps me and I'm the Mom/Teacher so that counts for lots :-).